The feel good factor is well and truly back at Anfield. Thus far, Kenny Dalglish is proving wrong the old adage that you should never go back, as his free-scoring Liverpool side hare towards a Europa League spot. If Rafael Benitez had become a divisive figure by the end of his tenure, and Roy Hodgson only succeeded in uniting the fans against him, Dalglish has managed to get everyone on the red half of Merseyside on the pitch and in the stands pulling together in the same direction.
W. John Henry’s takeover has been a major factor in the new-found spring in the Reds’ step, bringing stability as well as lifting the gloom of Fernando Torres’ departure by bringing in nearly £60m worth of striking talent to replace him. With the players revitalised, Dirk Kuyt last week predicted a full-on title tilt from Liverpool next season. While that might be a tad optimistic, Dalglish and Director of Football Damian Comolli will be given money to spend in the summer to take the club forward. The next steps they take could be their most important.
While at least one new centre-back and a left-back seem almost certain to arrive in the summer, the other areas in need of strengthening remain the subject of debate. In the shape of Steven Gerrard, Raul Meireles, and this season’s revelation Lucas Leiva, the Reds look well blessed in central midfield. Yet rumours persist that Liverpool will again bid for Blackpool’s Charlie Adam in the summer, while Saint-Etienne destroyer Blaise Matuidi is another player thought to be on Comolli’s radar. The addition of at least one winger would also make sense, to fully maximise the talents of Andy Carroll. Ashley Young, Matt Jarvis and PSV Eindhoven’s Balazs Dzsudzsak are names that have been linked.
Dalglish’s biggest challenge might be to integrate any high profile newcomers with the considerable talent already at his disposal. Even now, it is not clear how he will fit the likes of Meireles, Gerrard, Lucas, Kuyt, Carroll and Luis Suarez into the same team when everyone is fit, and that is before even considering the fine recent form of Maxi Rodriguez and the emergence of local lad Jay Spearing. Meireles has looked far less comfortable when shoehorned into a wide role, while the blossoming understanding that Kuyt and Suarez are developing in attack raises questions the Dutchman’s best position.
The former Eredivisie duo’s strike partnership came into its own in last Sunday’s win over Newcastle United, Kuyt’s work rate and movement complementing Suarez’s pace and invention. Their success in tandem has raised questions about how to accommodate the £35m Carroll. The young striker will have it all to prove next season – especially since his presence in the team thus far has proven a hindrance – as a long-ball magnet in the Europa League defeat to Braga – as well as an asset -in the demolition of Manchester City.
Dalglish is still enjoying his second honeymoon period in the wake of his return, but how long into next season that lasts will depend on him striking the right balance. The Liverpool recovery is only just beginning, and if the wily Scot gets it right, their potential is frightening.