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Dalglish Signals His Intent

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Dalglish in Training

Yesterday's performance at Bloomfield Road certainly left something to be desired, as match reports have taken the time to rightly point out, but one thing that bears repeating as people begin to pull their hair over another loss on the road, casting about for scapegoats, is that these are early days with Kenny Dalglish in charge. As the man himself talked about, the feel good factor might be a pleasant change from the status quo in a season without all that many pleasant moments, but that doesn't change that there's hard work to be done and that things on the pitch were never going to change completely overnight. Certainly every Liverpool follower watching yesterday's match will have wanted to see a flowing, dominating victory against Blackpool, but for a club that has spent the past six months playing a regressive, static, and passive brand of football all while being told time and again that a simple draw against Wolves or Blackburn would be a grand success one could hardly dare hope for, it was always going to take time.

It would be well, then, if everybody could for one moment step back and remember that Dalglish has only been in charge for five days now, with only two of those days fully available to train with the squad. While all might wish instant success to go along with the warm and fuzzy themes of return and redemption--as well as to hopefully move up the table far enough that talk might reasonably shift from potential relegation battles to potential European battles--the important things to look for right now are signs of improvement: signs that pass and move, up-tempo, high pressure, lively football might be making its return to Liverpool after a painful absence. It will take time for the squad to fully reacquaint themselves with such concepts as a team, and it will also take time for the squad to overcome the low morale installed in them by Roy Hodgson as he continually sought to lower expectations he found himself overwhelmed by. They may be highly paid professionals, but to pretend that sport doesn't have a large psychological aspect and that after the last six months most of these players aren't running on empty mentally is both naive and foolish. It's all well and good for some to say that shouldn't be the case, but it doesn't change the reality that it is.

With all of that in mind, it was at least reassuring to see Liverpool come out firing yesterday. It was encouraging to see Torres chase after the ball and boil at percieved injustice. It was encouraging to see the early attempts at possession play, and fullbacks getting forward to provide width. It was encouraging to see a lineup that spoke to a more attacking mindset than has been seen at Liverpool Football Club in recent memory. Kuyt may have continued his poor form; Torres may have become less effective as a fragile squad became impatient and started hitting longer and longer balls; Jovanovic may have looked, if you're being generous, as rusty as one would expect a man who hasn't gotten a match since the Pleistocene to look. Yet none of that is especially meaningful with respect to the reality of where the club is now and Dalglish's attempts to dig them out of the hole Roy Hodgson helped to put them in, even if as Ed rightly pointed out we're getting to the point where the loss of points--given Liverpool's place in the table--starts to become especially worrisome.

Dalglish has had perhaps two training sessions with the squad, and the glut of matches that sees United and Everton sandwiching last night's Blackpool match within the space of a week was never going to help matters as it likely forced more changes to the lineup to keep players fresh and healthy than would have been ideal, so at this point the only legitimate reason for worry would have been if signs of hope hadn't been there. If, for example, Liverpool had come out with the line up that was rumoured beforehand, that might have been reason to worry. Make no mistake, for all that some cheered the presumed team sheet on account of the man in charge, a 442 with four center backs and two holding midfielders would have been--at least on paper--a more conservative approach to a road match than at any time under Roy Hodgson. People obviously didn't want to rip it apart too heavily given the return of an Anfield legend to the dugout, and there might be novel ways to put the suggested pieces together that would make it a successful squad for certain situations, but Hodgson would have certainly been taken to task for the way it appeared to say, "Well, we're on the road against a tough Blackpool side, so maybe we can eke out a draw." Thankfully, of course, the lineup we actually saw when the match began was never intended to try and nick a draw--it was set out to try to get three points, to attack and harry and pressure. Given fitness and suspension issues it meant taking a few gambles on the selection front, but even if those gambles didn't work out it was a powerful symbol of intent that Dalglish chose to make them in the first place where his predecessor would have shied away.

It may not be much, and the club will need to move beyond intent and into the realm of pure results very soon, but for the moment at least clear signs of Dalglish's intent to attempt an aggressive, attacking side that plays with verve and confidence and with its eyes on three points is comforting and much preferable to the obvious alternative. It's also a clear sign that no matter what happens from here on out, at least we can now say that we know for certain what the great man's goals are for the squad's general approach, and that those goals aren't to play for a participant's medal. That may not be everything--one could certainly take issue with, for example, the lack of any attempt to correct the failed gamble on a Jovanovic-Johnson partnership on the left--and there's never any guarantee of success, but for now it's something. And that's a hell of a lot more than we had this time last week.