Brendan Rodgers needs to target a better run in cup competitions at Liverpool next season

As the dust settled on Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge at Anfield, the general consensus was that progress had been made.

The Reds finished one place higher than their 2011/12 finish with nine points more than they had accumulated. Rodgers also boosted the Reds’ goal difference by as many as 21, as his side racked up 71 goals, despite playing until January with just one recognised senior striker in the shape of Luis Suarez at the club.

Since the turn of the year results have markedly improved, as well as performances, with Rodgers’ preferred formation giving them a fluent attacking trio, which played its part in romps against Wigan Athletic (4-0), Swansea City (5-0), Newcastle United (6-0), Norwich City (5-0), and Sunderland (3-0).

Brendan Rodgers

Since Rodgers was able to begin adding to his depleted attacking numbers, the Reds have played 17 games, winning eight and losing just three. The most damaging part of their post-New Year run in has been six draws, with the stalemates against Reading and West Ham United particularly galling.

The signings of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have given the Reds an extra dimension to their attack, meaning they are not as overly reliant on Suarez as they were in the dark days of winter.

Former striker John Aldridge spoke glowingly of their impact at the club, claiming that the window had been the most fruitful one since he was signed alongside Peter Beardsley and John Barnes nearly a quarter of a century ago.

“Over time there was real improvement and that was partly due to Liverpool having their best transfer window we’ve had for a very long time,” Aldridge said in his Liverpool Echo column.

“It was probably the best [window] we’ve had since 1987 when John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and myself joined Liverpool.

“Sturridge has really impressed me with his pace and power and his scoring record is excellent. I don’t want to put too much expectation on Coutinho but he is a very special player.”

With a summer transfer window as successful as the winter one, Rodgers will be in a position to realistically challenge for a Champions League place next season. It is a theory club captain Steven Gerrard subscribes to.

Gerrard told the club’s official website: “The football in general that we’ve shown since January, I think we’ve shown Champions League form so I’m very optimistic for next season.

“It’s down to us players to continue what we’ve done in the last couple of months, take that into next season and try to improve. Other teams are going to make signings, strengthen and improve – we need to make sure that we do as well.”

However, for all the progress in the Premier League, there is the lingering disappointment of their weak exit from both domestic cups.

Under Kenny Dalglish last season, the Reds visited Wembley three times, winning the League Cup and finishing as runners up to Chelsea in the FA Cup.

Liverpool were labelled a ‘Cup Team’ from certain sections under ‘King’ Kenny, and their prowess in knockout competitions was certainly impressive. In contrast Rodgers’ side relinquished their League Cup crown by being outclassed 3-1 by his former side Swansea at Anfield on October 31.

Oldham celebrate win over Liverpool

If the defeat to the Swans was dispiriting then the debacle at Oldham Athletic in January left fans seething.

Rodgers fielded a team that contained Suarez, Sturridge and Fabio Borini but the side were bullied by a swashbuckling performance from striker Matt Smith – who walked away with two goals and the Man of the Match award.

The result was undoubtedly the low point of Rodgers’ reign, and something that should be forcefully addressed next season.

Challenging for the lucrative Champions League spots is a prerequisite for the Liverpool manager, a return to the competition that they were such as force in from 2005-2009 is the best way to eventually get the club on solid ground to challenge for the Premier League title.

However, in the wake of some criticism of Arsenal for their celebrations after qualifying fourth, despite failing to lift a trophy for the eight season running, Rodgers will have been made acutely aware of the importance of a cup run.

Manchester United without Sir Alex or Wayne Rooney, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho – next season is set to be a cracker

As the 2012/13 Premier League season lurches towards its underwhelming end, the realisation for many a fan is that it left us with precious little memories, compared to other seasons – notably the most sensational ending in the competition’s 21-year history last term.

As Sergio Aguero slammed home the winner that gave Manchester City the Premier League over fierce local rivals Manchester United with the last kick of the game against Queen Park Rangers last season, Martin Tyler screamed: “I swear you will never see anything like this again.”

Tyler’s now iconic sound bite may have had some truth to it, certainly this season at least, he was right.

Sergio Aguero

As the season sleepwalks into its final day, there is only the tedious race for fourth place that is still to play for amongst London trio Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. The champions United won the division as far back at April 22. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side took advantage of a lacklustre competition and they marched to their 13th Premier League title in an efficient, if unspectacular, manner.

Two of the three relegated teams’ fate were sealed a week later when Queens Park Rangers played out a dour 0-0 with Reading before Wigan Athletic joined them on Tuesday following a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal.

Indeed the most exciting events to happen in the league this season were announcements and decisions that will not come into focus until next season.

Happily next season is already shaping up to be mouth-watering, with a whole of changes sweeping throughout the league, giving it a fresh feel for the summer of 2013.

To begin with, four of the top six teams this season will be starting the 2013/14 campaign with new managers at the helm.

Manchester United will be without Alex Ferguson for the first time in 26 years, with his replacement David Moyes leaving Everton, where he served for over a decade himself.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson’s absence from English football is a concept millions of fans around the country have never known and Moyes’ adaptation to the country’s biggest club will be the most fascinating plot next season.

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright admitted that he will not be hasty in appointing Moyes’ successor, with the most reliable reports linking the Blues with Wigan’s Roberto Martinez, Porto coach Vitor Pereira and Swansea City boss Michael Laudrup.

Rafael Benitez will depart Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho seemingly set for a second stint at Stamford Bridge. The return of the ‘Special One’ is enough to excite every Chelsea fan and most neutrals. Love him or loathe him, Mourinho is pure box office and his return to England is sure to stir up feuds, drama and entertainment.

Man City are looking for a new manager with Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini touted as the favourite to take over from the axed Roberto Mancini. Incidentally, the Italian was given his P45 just 366 days after he ended his side’s 44-year wait for a league title in the top division.

Pellegrini’s presence in English football would provide another interesting sub-plot to next season’s 38 act drama. The Chilean has won widespread plaudits for his work with the Andalusians this season, after guiding them to a Champions League quarter-final in their first season in the competition, despite working against a backdrop of financial meltdown at the club.

Away from the dug-out, the division will be without two players who will have played 1456 top-flight games between them by Sunday evening. Jamie Carragher will retire from Liverpool after 16 years of sterling service for the Reds, while Paul Scholes looks set to make the last of 718 appearances for United when they play West Bromwich Albion.

Between them they have won five FA Cups, three Champions Leagues, five League Cups, a UEFA Cup, a Super Cup and two World Club Championships. Scholes leaves United with 11 Premier Leagues and both players say goodbye to the game as archetypal one-club legends for their respective teams.

Wayne Rooney’s future is also subject to speculation with Ferguson admitting that the England international had asked for a transfer request a few weeks back. Rooney has been linked with moves abroad to Paris Saint-Germain amongst others, but there have also been reports suggesting that the former Everton forward could move to Chelsea.

Wayne Rooney

A move to Stamford Bridge would be another incredible development in United’s recent evolution, and perhaps it may seem incomprehensible that Rooney could turn out for the Blues next season. However, stranger things have happened in football, and Man Utd’s decision-makers have never been shy of selling a star player when they think his talent may be on the wane.

Next season will also have the fixture that pits Cardiff City against Swansea City, a game which will only add more spice to a division that already boasts the Merseyside, Manchester, north London and Tyne-Wear derbies.

Equate in all this with the fact that the transfer window is not yet even open and you get the feeling that next season could be one of the most intriguing all of time.

Roy Hodgson – The master of lowering England’s expectations

“I thought we hung on well, all things considered we mustn’t be too disappointed; a point here gives a chance to build for the future,” said Roy Hodgson speaking after England’s 1-1 draw with Montenegro on Tuesday night.

Hodgson, the master of lowering expectations, was at it again in Podgorica.

There are people who claim that an away draw at international level should never be grumbled at, and of course, they have a point, but Hodgson’s reaction to a stalemate against a team with a national population of just over 600,000 was irritating at best, baffling at worst.

Roy Hodgson

Of course, Hodgson has previous for these sound bites that reveal an exasperating inferiority complex; regardless of what team he is managing.

After seeing his Liverpool side enter their most turgid performance of testing campaign in their 2-0 defeat to fierce local rivals Everton in October 2010, Hodgson did not quite see the fuss being made from the Anfield faithful:

“I watched the performance and the second half was as good as I saw a Liverpool team play under my management that is for sure,” opined Hodgson, to the incredulity of all who follow the five-time European Cup winners.

Hodgson had earlier that campaign gave an almost comical response to a question put to him after a 3-0 defeat to Manchester City.

Asked if his techniques still worked in the Premier League in 2010, Hodgson fumed: “What do you mean do my methods translate? They have translated from Halmstads to Malmo, to Orebo to Neuchatel Xamax, to the Swiss national team, so I find the question insulting.”

Neuchatel Xamax, Orebo and Halmstads? To use such sides as a reference point to defend his managerial record was beyond belief to many who sat at the Etihad Stadium, watching Roberto Mancini’s side dismantle the Reds.

Hodgson has also flourished with this kind of Basil Fawlty-esque take on media handling in the role of national manager, particularly when criticising Wayne Rooney immediately after a quarter-final penalty shootout exit at the hands of Italy at Euro 2012.

Asked if the Manchester United striker was struggling for fitness after missing the first two Group games through suspension, the former Fulham boss dismissed such suggestions and claimed that Rooney simply was playing far below his level.

“In the first game against Ukraine he didn’t show any particular signs of lacking fitness. He played 120 minutes [against Italy].

“What you might be saying is that you are a bit disappointed with his performance and maybe thought he could have played better. He didn’t have his best game – I’m sure he will admit that. That could be down to a number of factors but I don’t think the fitness itself was a particular factor.”

Roy Hodgson

A masterclass in how to alienate your best player, minutes after a demoralising exit from a tournament that dominated two years of his international career.

The truth is, Hodgson had already worked his special brand of expectation-lowering before he had even picked a first XI for the Three Lions. Pipping red-hot favourite Harry Redknapp to the role of manager back in April 2012, many fans and pundits alike accepted that the forthcoming European Championships would be a write-off – a chance for Roy to experiment and blood some youngsters into the senior fold for experience, that may serve them well for future tournaments.

It was a majestic way of disarming a perpetually over-exuberant fanbase before a major tournament. Had Redknapp, who was forging a reputation as the darling of English football at the time, taken over as England chief, the nation would have been awash with optimism heading into the tournament, as the-then Tottenham Hotspur manager was riding high at White Hart Lane.

Of course, expectation levels would have risen unrealistically high, but would that have been any worse than accepting that a team comprised of players playing for some of the biggest teams in the Premier League every week will fail miserably?

We suspect that the truth is, Redknapp was not offered the job at Wembley due to the reported £10m compensation package that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy wanted for the services of the-now Queens Park Rangers boss.

Hodgson was even playing down his chances before he first sat in front of the press as national manager.

“I would rather hope that, if I was ever going to be offered the England job, it would be with the backing of the important people. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very difficult job for anyone who takes it.”

“A difficult job” indeed, one that he is not making any easier for himself or his team.

Player of the Year: Manchester United’s Van Persie, Tottenham’s Bale or Liverpool’s Suarez?

Conventional wisdom says that the award for Player of the Year in the Premier League will be a three-way duel between the trio of Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Gareth Bale.

Paul Gorst takes a look at the pros and cons for each, as the season reaches its final quarter.

Robin van Persie: Manchester United

When Manchester United lost the Premier League title on goal difference to their bitter local rivals Manchester City last season, Sir Alex Ferguson simply decided to go and buy the top striker in the league. There was no deep-rooted analytical thinking behind the transfer other than the fact that Robin van Persie guarantees goals. His strikes have gone a long way to virtually ensuring that the title will return to Old Trafford in May.

Robin van Persie

The Dutch striker has helped himself to 19 goals in the Premier League this season and none were more important than his match-winning free-kick against City in the closing stages of the 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium back in December. The former Arsenal man has 23 goals in all competitions and has usurped Wayne Rooney as the star man at Old Trafford.

It is also easy to forget that this is Van Persie’s first year at United, after making the switch from the Emirates Stadium for around £25m last summer. It feels as though RVP has been playing for the Red Devils for seasons and the way he has adapted to playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world has been seamless.

However, Van Persie has not scored since the win over Everton back on February 10 and has now gone 10 games without a goal. Will those stats count against him when the voting is decided?

Gareth Bale: Tottenham Hotspur

Gareth Bale is undoubtedly the man of the moment in the Premier League. The flying Welshman has helped himself to 10 goals in the last nine games for Tottenham Hotspur and is the side’s leading scorer with 16 goals in the Premier League.

Gareth Bale

The former Southampton man has also lit up the league with some memorable strikes such as his last minute wonder-strike to win the game against West Ham United last month, and his goal against Norwich City, which started with a run from his own half before he stabbed it beyond goalkeeper John Ruddy at the edge of the box, in January.

Bale’s form is such that he is even being compared by some, including team-mate Michael Dawson, to La Liga superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The comparisons to the planet’s two best players are somewhat misguided certainly, but the fact that he is drawing such evaluations is proof at least, of superb form.

The 23-year-old has netted 23 times for Spurs in all competitions this campaign. However, with Bale grabbing 10 in his last nine, that means that he was marooned on a fairly respectable, if not outstanding total of 13 goals before his wonderful effort against the Canaries back on January 30.

With the voting papers being sent out in February, has Bale done enough to convince that he should be awarded the title?

Luis Suarez: Liverpool

Luis Suarez has been the outstanding player for Liverpool this season and currently tops the Premier League scoring charts with 22 goals for the Reds.

Luis Suarez

Suarez was Liverpool’s top scorer last season, but has taken his exploits up a level this term with some breathtaking performances for Brendan Rodgers’ side. Suarez’s feats are all the more impressive when you equate in the fact that he was the Reds’ only recognised striker from September to January, when the club failed to sign a replacement for the loaned-out Andy Carroll and Italian forward Fabio Borini suffered a foot injury whilst on international duty.

The Uruguayan has toiled away admirably this season and is not only a supremely talented footballer; the former Ajax man is one of the hardest working forwards in the Premier League, which is a trait that does not go unnoticed by fans at Anfield.

Suarez has found himself playing slightly out of position since the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January, but the tactical switch has not dulled his goal threat as the striker has helped himself to 13 goals in his last 13 games for the Reds, and has 29 in all competitions this season.

Unlike Van Persie, Suarez is operating in a team that has struggled this season during Rodgers’ first campaign in the Anfield dugout, yet he has still managed to top the goalscoring charts heading into mid-March, and will probably be the first Premier League player to reach 30 goals this season.

The forward is not as revered around the rest of England as he is in Liverpool however, with admissions of diving leaving a sour taste, and the race-row with Patrice Evra in 2011 still fresh in some minds.

Suarez’s simulation has unfairly been highlighted against Gareth Bale’s, who been booked four times this season for diving compared to Suarez’s one, but will this affect his chances when the votes are cast?

Does Moyes need Everton more than they need him?

As the players trudged off the turf after a crushing FA Cup defeat, Everton Football Club were crestfallen.

Three goals in as many minutes saw Wigan Athletic deal the Blues the hammer blow that confined them to another season without silverware, a millstone that clings heavily around the neck of manager David Moyes and his club as a whole.

Many fans hung around Goodison Park after the final whistle to vent their frustrations at the worst performance of the season in what was undoubtedly, the biggest match of their campaign.

Of course, Everton have been here before.

The defeat meant that twice in less than 12 months, the blue half of Merseyside have been eliminated from England’s premier cup competition in a tie where the word ‘final’ is uttered.

David Moyes

In April 2012, David Moyes’ side were beaten 2-1 at the semi-final stage by their bitter local rivals Liverpool, and on the day that saw the Grand National take place at Aintree Racecourse, it was easy to use the racing terminology to describe their defeat as a ‘final furlong collapse’ in the penultimate game before a Wembley final.

On that day, it was Andy Carroll’s late header that gave Kenny Dalglish’s side the win and saw them book their place in the final, and the aftermath of the defeat saw David Moyes have his future at the club called into question by fans, pundits and journalists alike.

The feeling was that the crushing loss to their fierce rivals would see Moyes question if he had taken his side as far as he could.

Since the defeat, both Moyes and the Blues as a whole have put the bitter disappointment of the exit behind them, dusted themselves off and have performed admirably in the Premier League this season.

However, despite the latest setback against Wigan offering similarities to the defeat to the Reds last year, the feeling amongst Everton fans this time round is slightly different.

Many feel that Moyes was too cautious in his approach against a side who are perennial Premier League strugglers and sat just one place above the relegation zone at the time of kick-off last Saturday.

The theory was that while it is prudent management to prepare for your opponents’ strengths, the decision to start Phil Neville ahead of Darron Gibson in midfield and the selection of just one striker in the form of Nikicia Jelavic was seen as criminal.

So what does Moyes do next?

Time and again he has saw his side come up short when it really matters. Since joining in 2002, the closest he has been to a trophy at the Blues was when his side took a first minute lead in the 2009 FA Cup final to Chelsea, only to be undone by goals from Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.

The Scot has unquestionably had the Blues punching above their weight for several seasons, and their unlikely push for a Champions League spot this term has been a breath of fresh air to the Premier League.

Moyes has said that he will not decide his future until the summer, and there is a growing feeling from many that the former Preston North End boss will call time on his 11-year association with Everton.

A chronic lack of investment at the club means Moyes has never been able to compete with most other clubs in the league and has had to rummage around the lower end of the transfer market for years, unearthing bargains, polishing their skills and selling them for a profit.

Should Moyes stick with the Blues, it will represent a calculated gamble, a risk that could see his reputation as a manager plummet should he struggle to continue his consistency with the Blues.

But does Moyes need Everton more than they need him in 2013?

Moyes may be forced to survey the managerial landscape at the end of the campaign and surmise that there are currently no other clubs out there who he could walk into that are better than Everton.

For years it has been assumed wisdom that Moyes will leave the Blues for a ‘bigger club’. Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and even Manchester United have been mentioned, but at the end of the campaign, when he decides his future, perhaps, a good look at the situation will cause him equate that the grass at Goodison Park is in fact no less greener than anywhere else.

Spurs are settled with Andre Villas-Boas at the helm, Sir Alex Ferguson shows no signs of relenting at Old Trafford and Moyes knows a job with Chelsea means he is always less than half-a-dozen poor results away from unemployment.

Celtic have no desire to replace Neil Lennon and Gordon Strachan has only recently just taken over as national boss of Moyes’ Scotland two months ago. There are very few options available where he would be better placed than in his current spot in the dugout at Goodison Park.

Redknapp only out for QPR’s money?

Harry Redknapp arrived at Queens Park Rangers in November billed as the man to save them.

At the time, the R’s were struggling at the bottom of the Premier League without a win in their first dozen games, and Redknapp signed a two-and-a-half year deal at Loftus Road with one immediate objective – to keep the Londoners in the top flight.

It was deemed by many as an astute appointment from Rangers’ chairman Tony Fernandes; after all, Redknapp had led Tottenham Hotspur to the Champions League in 2010 and was on the brink of the England job before Spurs chairman Daniel Levy decided to ask to for an inflated compensation package for the services of his team’s manager.

Harry Redknapp

The former Southampton and Portsmouth boss claimed the chance to manage a club propping up the Premier League was “too good an opportunity to turn down”.

Just a few weeks into the job, Redknapp announced that it was time to dispense with the players who were only at Loftus Road for wages that were being given. Having seen the club’s fans and owner being taken for a ride by cash-grabbing mercenaries, Redknapp decided it would be him who would put a stop to such behaviour.

“I don’t really want to see the owners have their pants taken down like they have in the past. A lot of agents made money out of them,” declared Redknapp just before Christmas.

“I fined a player last week (Jose Bosingwa) and he was earning more than any player earned at Tottenham. You shouldn’t be paying massive wages when you’ve got a stadium that holds 18,000 people.”

The stance was admirable; Redknapp was riding in on his white horse to save the despairing QPR from a bunch of chancers and charlatans – except, Redknapp is doing the exact same as the players who his ire was aimed at.

Redknapp took over in November with the club in 20th position in the Premier League, four months on the club is still in the same position, only after spending £20m in the January transfer window.

Former Blackburn Rovers defender Christopher Samba moved from Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala for £12m and French striker Loic Remy was brought in for £8m from Marseille, in an attempt to stave off the threat of relegation.

Despite being in the job just under two months, Redknapp had smashed the club’s transfer record – twice.

Make no mistake, for a club at the bottom end of the league to spend such a sum in the winter transfer window is unprecedented. So far, the transfers have done little to help the cause and if QPR are demoted to the Championship in May, then the carefree nature of January’s spending could haunt the club for years.

Of course, Redknapp has previous for this spendthrift attitude to transfer dealings. He led Portsmouth to the 2008 FA Cup with a squad that contained many of his signings; players such as Peter Crouch, Glen Johnson, Sulley Muntari and Sylvain Distin.

Three are still performing admirably on a weekly basis in the Premier League, whilst Muntari currently plies his trade in Italy for AC Milan. Five years on Pompey sit rock bottom of League One, plagued by financial trouble stemming from their indulgent attitude of the last few years.

When discussing the fine given to Bosingwa after his refusal to be among the substitutes in a game against Fulham, Redknapp said:

“[Bosingwa] has been fined two weeks’ wages, £130,000. Not too bad for two weeks – decent isn’t it.”

Musing on the amount of money to be earned at Loftus Road is perhaps what he meant when he claimed that the opportunity was “too good to turn down” on his arrival at the club.

Southampton’s Saint: It has been a season of highs, frustrations and terrible lows for Billy Sharp

Both personally and professionally, it has been a season that Billy Sharp will never forget. From the unimaginable tragedy of the loss of his two day old son Luey, to the lunacy of Doncaster Rovers’ season with agent Willie McKay’s bizarre revolving door transfer policy or Southampton’s glorious promotion to the Premier League, Sharp has experienced it all one way or another this term.

Of course it is the deeply personal loss which will stick with the striker more than anything else, but Sharp revealed himself to be a man of huge dignity in the aftermath of his son’s death.

His poignant celebration after his goal against Middlesbrough, just three days after Luey’s death will be something that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it, and it went someway to restoring the public perception of the typical footballer.

After striking a sweet dipping volley from the edge of the box with his left foot, Sharp broke down, dropping to his knees and revealing a t-shirt that read:

‘That’s for you son.’

Sharp later took to Twitter to continue his dedication.

‘My goal tonight was the most important of my career dedicated to my brave boy Luey Jacob Sharp. I love you son.’

It is Sharp’s personal tragedy that one would not like to dwell on too much, but as a professional footballer, his campaign has been a happy one – he will be a Premier League footballer next season.

Sharp’s £1.8m January move from Doncaster to Southampton catapulted him from one end of the Championship to the other and it was a move that was surely welcomed after being part of a Donny side that accumulated a bunch of mercenaries on loan, who played merely to showcase themselves to other teams, with scant regard for Doncaster, or the sanctity of team sport.

Super-agent Willie McKay oversaw every single transfer for the club and readily admitted he was only at Doncaster for the money as he explained his business model for Donny – a model that was sat uneasily alongside the very core values at the heart of the game.

‘In every squad there are two or three good players who aren’t getting a game for whatever reason. We will take them to Doncaster, put them in the shop window and sell them on with sell-on fees.

‘I’m doing this to prove it can be done and I’ve been honest enough to admit I’m only here for the money.’

In reality, it couldn’t be done and Doncaster were relegated, bottom of the Championship.

Sharp escaped from the doomed experiment and when asked to sum up the season immediately after promotion, he spoke of being ‘frustrated, sad, happy’, there were no prizes for guessing where and when he experienced each emotion.

Even in his finest hour, celebrating promotion, Sharp – who scored nine in 15 appearances for the Saints – was still quick to highlight the contribution of every one else.

‘It’s not just me who needed a happy ending to the season because there are 35 other players and staff in that dressing room who deserve it as much as me.’

Billy Sharp is a man of true class, we wish him well in the 2012/2013 Premier League season.

By Paul Gorst

FA Cup semi-final against Everton key to Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool future

“Although we have won something today, that is not us finished. We don’t want to stop here, we want to keep going.” – Kenny Dalglish, speaking after Liverpool’s Carling Cup triumph over Cardiff City on 26th February.

It was the generic post-match sound-bite, conventional wisdom, almost, with one point that needed hammering home – to make sure fans knew that winning their first trophy for six years would not mean a slip back into the slumber for Liverpool Football Club.

Influential defenders Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger also chimed in with the official line and club captain Steven Gerrard added: “We won’t accept just this, we need more, we want more.”

However, since that victory at Wembley, the Reds have won just two of the eight league games played, with embarrassing reverses at the hands of QPR and Wigan Athletic. At the time of writing, the Reds sit eighth in the Premier League, 13 points behind fourth placed Tottenham and a point behind local rivals Everton.

So just why has LFC’s season unravelled?

Over £100 million has been spent on players who have so far, failed to live up to the expectations of playing for one of the biggest clubs in England. Players such as Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll (signed for a combined £71m) have flattered to deceive so far in their Anfield career and the jury is very much still out on all three north-east natives.

The departure of Damien Comolli this week, perhaps highlights the notion that all is not well in the corridors of power at Liverpool. Comolli’s sacking has been viewed by some, as an admission of fault on the transfer strategy by LFC owners Fenway Sports Group.

The clear blueprint of buying young British talent has so far yielded little; only Uruguayan international Luis Suarez, Spaniard Jose Enrique and the ageing Craig Bellamy have been unequivocal successes during the FSG reign.

Then there is manager Kenny Dalglish, who has come in for some criticism despite his legendary status at Anfield. The fans have reluctant to be overly critical of a man nicknamed ‘King’ but the Scot is not infallible and there have been groans of discontent aimed the manager from The Kop. The famous ‘Dalglish’ chant has been conspicuous by its absence in recent weeks.

Since the turn of the year, Liverpool’s form has dipped so dramatically that the only team with a worse points tally is bottom of the table Wolves, it is something that desperately needs addressing.

When the Reds overcame a spirited Cardiff at Wembley in February, there was still a realistic hope of securing a Champions League spot at the end of the season – something owner John W. Henry claimed would be a ‘major disappointment’ if they failed.

With just five games left to play, that coveted Champions League spot is far away in the distance, and the Reds have just the FA Cup to play for – they meet fierce rivals Everton at Wembley on Saturday.

If Dalglish wins a domestic cup double, it could hardly be considered a poor season for Liverpool. After all, teams with ambitions as lofty as Arsenal (and save for a remarkable finish to the Premier League, Manchester City) will finish the season without a trophy, but it is, and was Dalglish’s remit at the start of the season to finish in the top four.

Their season rests on the FA Cup. Win on Saturday; Dalglish has one last cup final to perhaps save his job. Lose – to their rivals – and finish below Everton in the Premier League, and Fenway Sports Group might be forced into action.

By Paul Gorst

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