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Assessing Liverpool’s situation

There seemed to be a lot of discontent and up to a point, some excessive criticism aimed at Liverpool by the fans after the 0-0 draw at Wigan. Yes, if Liverpool want to achieve their goal of finishing in the top four, they should be winning this sort of game. The fact that they didn’t does not automatically mean they won’t be playing Champions League football next season. Liverpool are three points off 4th place at Christmas and I think it’s fair to say that virtually every red would’ve taken that at the start of the campaign. I know I would have. After all, things could be far, far worse.

To underline why the fans shouldn’t be so quick to despair, one need only turn the clocks back a year. On December 29th 2010, Liverpool lost 1-0 to Wolves at Anfield, a result that left them in 12th place in the Premier League hovering a mere 3 points above the relegation zone. It was practically beleaguered boss Roy Hodgson’s final act at the helm, save for the desperate 3-1 defeat at Blackburn soon after, which only served as stark confirmation that his dismal reign was at an end. Let it be clear that Hodgson was simply the wrong man for the job, his work at West Brom proves that.

Aside from events on the pitch, the club was still dragging itself to its feet off it following the departures of Tom Hicks and George Gillett after a touch and go legal dispute, and bare in mind had it turned out differently, Liverpool would’ve have found themselves facing catastrophic consequences. John W Henry, owner of NESV (since renamed Fenway Sports Group) took over in October, and for all the doom and gloom on the pitch – which lets not forget included a home Carling Cup defeat at the hands of lowly Northampton – at least the club had now been dragged out of the financial abyss in which it had languished for the last several years.

At the point of Hodgson’s exit, Liverpool were in need of change in a big way. The next couple of months proved to be more tumultuous than anyone could ever have predicted. The change arrived in many forms, firstly with the return of Kenny Dalglish, a decision which in hindsight was a masterstroke by Henry. After hurdling the the obstacles maliciously placed in front of him by the media, Dalglish’s magic appeared to be in full flow as Liverpool secured a classy 3-0 victory over Wolves, less than a month after the pitiful reverse fixture at Anfield that signalled the end for Hodgson.

And then the bomb dropped. Despite Liverpool’s horrible start to the season, there didn’t seem too much cause for concern that Fernando Torres would leave the club. A couple of weeks earlier the Spaniard had declared he was happy at Liverpool, and furthermore it looked as though Dalglish had fixed his spluttering form, as his brace in the win at Molineux suggested. Whatever the circumstances appeared to show, the tide was about to take a devastating turn. As the final hours of the transfer window approached, Torres handed in a transfer request and the seemingly unbreakable bond between the Kop and their hero was shattered. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Liverpool supporters had no choice but to embrace the arrival of their new strikeforce, which almost twelve months on, appears to have only half-worked. Andy Carroll, at £35m, was a mistake by Dalglish. Luis Suarez however, wasn’t. In the depression that engulfed many a Liverpool fan, me included, in the wake of Torres’ departure, the impact that the majestic Uruguayan would have on the club was perhaps overshadowed. As soon as he arrived though, Suarez spearheaded Liverpool’s rise up the table with some dazzling performances, and as Torres embarassingly struggled to justify his £50m price tag at Chelsea, it became clear that Liverpool had emerged from the transfer chaos better off than events at the time suggested they might.

Fast forward to summer 2011 and the darkness which had once enshrouded the club had now been totally replaced by optimism. Despite some wayward suggestions of a title challenge, Liverpool’s target for 2011/12 was always going to be 4th place. When he took over, John Henry promised money would be spent and true to his word, he handed Dalglish significant funds. This is where a sense of perspective is needed when judging the perfomance of Liverpool’s new signings so far this season.

I think most people would agree that Charlie Adam has done well despite the occasional clumsy moment, and that Stewart Downing hasn’t yet performed to the levels expected of him. Downing’s problem is form, when things are good, he’s very good and when things are bad it can be quite mediocre. Therefore, his fortunes can easily change, it’s just a question of time. Then there’s Jordan Henderson, perhaps the signing who has come under the spotlight the most. His performances have been patchy and he needs to be told that receiving the ball and just passing it sideways isn’t really acceptable at Liverpool. However, he has shown some moments of real class and potential, and given that he’s only 21, he could definitely develop into a top quality player. Jose Enrique has fitted into the team like a glove, and Craig Bellamy has turned out to be a peach of a deal considering he was free.

Regardless of opinions, let’s just be thankful it isn’t this time last year. The future is bright, when it could’ve been thoroughly bleak.

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