Steve Clarke's arrival at Liverpool, which came shortly after Kenny Dalglish's appointment in January of 2011, was met with resounding praise. The former Chelsea coach had a quality reputation for keeping squads organized both in training and on matchdays, particularly in defense. With Roy Hodgson's Liverpool proving to be leaky at the back, soft in the middle, and impotent when it came to finishing *METAPHOR ALERT*, Clarke's introduction was both welcomed and, as the short-term results would show, successful.
He was credited with pushing Kenny Dalglish's tactical approach over the edge as the 2010-2011 season wound to a close, with a number of tactical victories strengthening Clarke's reputation as a vital part of Liverpool's success moving forward. And for a short period of time this past May, it seemed that he would continue at the club even after Dalglish had gone. When the offer from West Brom came up, however, there was really no other option for a man that hadn't yet had the opportunity to take the reigns in the top flight English football.
That's made tomorrow's matchup the slightest bit sentimental, but mostly it's of concern for Liverpool supporters who know that Clarke's got a keen tactical mind and a squad that, while likely not able to match Brendan Rodgers' in terms of talent, is capable of putting a match to sleep and doing just enough to earn a point or three.
Points for West Brom weren't the only focus of Clarke's pre-match presser, as he also found himself in a position to comment on Liverpool's aspirations--or lack thereof, according to John Henry--for the new season.
"We both agreed that top four this time was a realistic target for this squad. I accept that the ultimate benchmark is the Premier League and we did come a little bit short. But when you look at the team we were starting to assemble - to reach two domestic cup finals is not an easy achievement. Not too many teams do it. Kenny and I were sure, with the group we had, that Liverpool would be in the top four this season. And now the owners have said that top four is not imperative for the current campaign - I don't believe that. A club like Liverpool have to be challenging for the top four. I don't think the club or the fans can expect anything less."
There's approximately sixteen different ways to take these comments, the most noteworthy of which involve bitterness, deceit, corruption, eroticism, tactically-sound defensive approaches, and statements of fact. There's no telling what Clarke's intent actually was, but ahead of his first competitive match as a Premier League manager, against his former club, it wouldn't be too terribly surprising if he was looking for any way possible to get some sort of edge.
In the end, though, Steve Clarke's influence on Liverpool amounts to a six-point maximum, and whether or not Liverpool end up in the Champions League has very little to do with the expectations that he and--as hard as it might be to say--Kenny Dalglish had. We've already witnessed some undoing of the plans they'd laid, and that those changes have been mostly met with positive sentiment indicate that Clarke's vision for Liverpool's future isn't shared by many.