With August's Premier League schedule finished and an international break set to take centre stage for the next two weeks, for many Saturday's game against Bolton provided a useful comparison to last season's matching fixture. The upside is seeing just how far the club has come in a very short time. The downside, of course, is that talk of Roy Hodgson becomes nigh on impossible…
*When it came to possession and chance creation, last winter's Joe Cole in stoppage time last gasp of Roy Hodgson's tenure victory at Anfield over Bolton was actually the superior performance. Which will come as a huge surprise to anybody who watched the match on Saturday while remembering little but the general malaise of Hodgsonian Liverpool towards the end of his unfortunate time with the club.
However, as monolithic as that time might seem in retrospect, Liverpool's New Years Day display was one of the scant few bright spots before Dalglish took over—even if it came right at the end and was played to a stadium half full of empty seats. Liverpool actually played well that day. As well as they might have at any point under Hodgson, even if in the final tally that quite nearly wasn't enough to get all three points. In the end, as Ed led with at the time, it was a match that allowed everybody for at least a moment to experience something other than the soul crushing ennui that had become de rigueur for those who remained committed.
Still, despite the unexpected numbers when comparing the attacks, there was one big change for Liverpool between the two games: Defensive pressure. Under Clarke and Dalglish this season the team played a much higher defensive line and managed fifty percent more successful tackles on the ground. It's a telling statistic that signals the vast gulf between where the club is now compared to where it was at this time last season, when despite some decent attacking stats one of the pinnacles of Roy Hodgson's time at the club seems a relatively poor performance sat next to a rather ho-hum, unexceptional day at the office for Dalglish's squad. It can perhaps be a touch easy to overlook given the vocal commitment to pass and move football, but a renewed focus on defensive workrate, closing down the opponent, and playing a higher line in defense is as key as anything in the club's heightened trajectory—something that comparing the two most recent matches at Anfield against Bolton highlights.
* While Liverpool fans may be moved to reflect on the changes from last August to now, there remains a resistance in the media to acknowledging Roy Hodgson's quite negative spell at the club even existed. There is—perhaps unsurprisingly given his position as one of the media's foremost darlings—an eagerness for many to jump straight from his good work at Fulham to his salvage job at West Brom while doing their best to pretend nothing even slightly negative lurks between the two relative highs:
He worked miracles at West Brom last season in a short space of time, and fully deserved all the plaudits he got for a remarkable turnaround; but he managed Liverpool for a longer period of time, and yet that gets brushed under the carpet as ‘too little time to make a difference.'
And all the while the while Jamie Redknapp and his ilk still like to bring up clichés of a negative Rafa Benitez whenever given half a chance. Even if, not entirely surprisingly, the facts spell out a different story and some intriguing parallels in the club's recent managerial history:
It’s fascinating to see that Hodgson and Houllier have identical records: an average of just 1.7 goals per game at home. (Houllier’s record starts from 1999/00, his first full season in charge.)
Another identical record is that of Benítez from 2006 to 2010 (his last four seasons) and Dalglish since his return: 2.18 goals per game.
Both men took over teams that were averaging 1.7 goals a game and improved the scoring rate by a massive 30%.
* Meanwhile, as everybody looking in on the club seems to have used a comfortable demolition of Bolton at home as a chance to reflect, so too has Daniel Agger. Many will recall that Agger was far from shy in the fall of 2010 when it came to talking about the direction the club was heading under Roy Hodgson, with the Danish defender being shoved unceremoniously towards the exit due to differences he had with the manager over his insistence on passing the ball out of defense rather than hoofing it downfield. Now, however, Agger has nothing but positives for the club's current approach to football that once again sees the classy defender as a vital player at the back:
My philosophy of how I want to play fits in with how the team is playing at the moment. That's the way we all want to play.
We have some quality passers in the team and we're playing it on the ground—that's what people like to see. Results are the most important thing but if you can play like that it's a bonus.
Word. Given how vocal he was when it came to his displeasure over Hodgson's approach at the time, it's hard to imagine he isn't silently adding an "unlike last year" or two whenever he talks about the renewed commitment to pass and move football from the goalkeeper to the forwards. Though regardless, he might want to limit the right-footed efforts on goal for the sake of keeping proceedings attractive from a footballing perspective.
Hopefully we won't have cause to mention Hodgson again around here for a good long while, but in the meantime, while we're living in the past and holding on to grudges…