A triumphant return for Kenny Dalglish has seen 8 wins in 12 games for Liverpool, surging into genuine contention for fifth spot and not too far off an unlikely Champions League position either. Whilst slightly premature, Liverpool’s performances have been vindictive enough to prompt cries of a genuine title challenge next year. He has managed to motivate and tactically position his team in a way that neither Rafa nor Roy could manage in the last two years.
From January 22nd, two weeks after Dalglish took over, and on the day of his first win since his return, Liverpool have averaged 2.17 points per game, marginally ahead of Manchester United, and only behind Chelsea (2.42). That equates to an 82 point season for Liverpool, an excellent return, considering both the injury and fixture list (City average a full point per game less than the Reds, with Spurs and Arsenal around half a point less).
Jay Spearing, John Flanagan, Martin Kelly and Jack Robinson have all impressed against Liverpool’s big four rivals, suggesting that the youth are good enough to be promoted in times of need. Maxi Rodriguez, on his first start for one and a half months, scored a poacher’s hat trick against Birmingham, traditionally a bogey team for Liverpool. A gutsy draw at the Emirates Stadium, and wins against both Manchester clubs as well as at Stamford Bridge would indicate that the squad depth is good. To say Joe Cole is much-maligned is an understatement, but even he managed to get onto the score sheet against Birmingham.
So, with the young players playing beyond their years, as well as the back ups exceeding expectations, is there any real need for a drastic overhaul at Anfield? In various media outlets, both trustworthy and dubious, it has been reported that Damien Comolli has his sights set on selling as many as 10 players, and buying better replacements. Who would these ten players be?
· Joe Cole has had a torrid time at Anfield, and despite showing signs of a recovery, both West Ham and Tottenham seem willing to buy him. Comolli will be happy to see him leave, as Liverpool continue to pay him £90,000 a week for very little game time.
· Fabio Aurelio signed a new contract in the summer, but he averages 17 starts per season in all competitions over his five years here, and he has been first choice the whole time. He isn’t worth his wages if he’s only going to be available to play in one third of Liverpool’s games every season.
· Maxi Rodriguez looks a candidate to leave too, despite his treble against Birmingham. He has been an unused substitute in 6 of Kenny’s thirteen games, and has only played 90 minutes four times. Maxi seems to be a consistent player, but with none of the dynamism or vibrancy that Liverpool are looking for.
· Daniel Agger is the Reds’ best defender when he is on the pitch, bringing class and imperium to the oft-clumsy defence. However, he averages even less starts per season than Aurelio does, and so is he worth the price? Liverpool could easily get £15million for him, with AC Milan and Inter both rumoured suitors.
· Emiliano Insua, currently out on loan to Galatasaray, both impressed and floundered in Liverpool’s abysmal campaign of 09-10. He was found out physically at times (it doesn’t help being 5’9 tall), although being part of the worst Reds defence this era did not help his cause. Liverpool won’t recoup much money from his sale, but are his wages necessary with young Robinson around?
· Jay Spearing has put in industrious and accomplished displays lately, despite being quietly written off by the fans earlier. He is a local boy, and that might play a big part in a Dalglish decision to keep him, but with Phil Jones and Charlie Adam rumoured, he will have a tough time getting games
· David N’gog may leave however, having largely been confined to the reserves since the return of the King, and with new strikers possibly inbound, he will look for first team football elsewhere
After the above players, of whom Agger and Spearing are unlikely anyway, it is hard to see who will leave Liverpool unless Comolli has truly drastic plans in place, involving some of the established players leaving. While everyone knows that Liverpool are crying out for a left-winger and a left back to play in the first team, with Eden Hazard, and Ashley Young mercilessly linked. The other positions are slightly more ambiguous, and it will be intriguing to see who Kenny and Comolli decide to recruit, as well as sell, to aid Liverpool’s title charge.