Not to take anything away from the victorious West Ham United yesterday, but this latest performance from Liverpool typifies the conundrum Kenny Dalglish faces this season, as they carry out a two-pronged assault in their search for domestic and European success.
Few clubs revel in the balancing act which derives from combining European commitments and domestic matters but due to concerns over squad depth, Liverpool may have to prioritise as both campaigns gather pace. Anfield hosted a robust Sparta Prague side on Thursday night and the hosts were pushed to the limit as they finally secured their passage through to the last 16 of the Europa League. It meant just two full days recovery time and it appeared Sunday’s fixture arrived too soon for many of Kenny Dalglish’s men.
Saying that, amongst five changes the Scot welcomed back Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, so he did shuffle his pack to some degree. Regardless, it was a performance which lacked a cutting edge as they were undone by the sheer vigour of West Ham midfield duo, Scott Parker and ex-Aston Villa man Thomas Hitzlsperger. Liverpool were a yard off the pace in most departments as the European hangover syndrome reared its ugly head.
It is a result which delivers a reality check to most people associated with the Reds, who after witnessing a resurgence of late, must now realise there is still much work to do with regards performance and the ongoing process of re-building the squad. The defeat also deals a big blow to any hope the Merseysiders had of returning to the top four, which in turn must push the emphasis towards their European engagements. A realistic and prioritised approach is now required from the club.
Elsewhere, the notion of every player performing for their respective futures is never truer than with midfield spoiler Christian Poulsen. The Dane has yet to settle in the Liverpool first XI as the pace of the Premier League continues to outwit him, and he admitted yesterday, despite having signed a three-and-a-half year deal in the summer under Roy Hodgson, he is unsure of what his immediate future holds.
Finally, reports were abundant in yesterday’s Press suggesting Andy Carroll has been told he must lose weight before he can make his long-awaited Liverpool debut. A thigh injury has kept him out of action since the New Year, meaning he has bulked up with the absence of regular training and matches. The club have placed him on an intense training schedule to aid his general fitness and they are adamant their most expensive signing will not be rushed back.