Are Liverpool on the way back to the top?

When Liverpool finished the 08/09 premiership campaign in 2nd place, many thought a first league title since 1990 wasn’t far away. It proved to be a false dawn because apart from Gerrard, Torres, Mascherano, Alonso and Reina, the squad didn’t have the required quality or depth to challenge on several fronts due to a lack of investment from then owners George Gillete and Tom Hicks. Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid and frequent injuries to the Gerrard/ Torres partnership meant that Liverpool finished 6th in 09/10, leading to the departure of Rafa Benitez. Well, he was more like hounded out by the English press, and Roy Hodgson appointed. It didn’t solve the problem, because Hodgson seemed like a small-time manager for a big club. He was out of his depth at Anfield and barring a brief good spell, like a win over Chelsea, his time was dismal.

Off the field, things were equally dismal. The duo of Hicks and Gillette loaded the club with debt when they took over and the resulting lack of investment in playing personnel became a vicious cycle: Less competitive on the pitch, meant less money off it, and so on. They couldn’t meet debt payments, and fears over the club’s future continued to grow. A legal battle saw the club eventually sold to John W. Henry, leading a consortium called New England Sports Ventures (NESV).

Under Hodgson, Liverpool continued to suffer on the pitch. They were knocked out of the Carling Cup at home by Northampton in September, and had their worst start to a season in 82 years after 7 league games in October. 2011 started with Liverpool having their lowest points total since 1953-54. He left the club by mutual consent on January 8th and was replaced by Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish was the last man to win Liverpool a league title, and he had actually applied for the vacant job at Anfield in the summer but his application was rejected. Many in and out of Merseyside thought he had been away from the game too long and represented a step backwards.

However, the team have only gone forward under Dalglish. So much so that only Manchester United have taken more points in the league since the turn of the year. King Kenny just fit right back into the Anfield dugout, as if he had never been away. He has shown adaptability in his tactics (such as the use of a 3-5-2 to defeat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge). The home form has been very good as Manchester United, Manchester City and Birmingham will attest (3-0, 3-0, 5-0). Young players like Jay Spearing, Martin Kelly (who has been a revelation until injury cut his season short), John Flanagan and Jack Robinson have all made good progress under him.

More encouraging news has come in the shape of transfers. The departure of Fernando Torres must have hurt, but signing Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll is the first show of ambition in the transfer market since the acquisition of Torres in ’07. The appointment of Damien Comolli as Director of Football Strategy (a position looked on suspiciously in England) has resulted in a clear transfer policy for the first time in years, designed to make them competitive in the short-term, while guaranteeing the long term health of the club both on and off the pitch.

It is a little too early to tell if Liverpool will become title challengers next term, but the ambition is clearly back at Anfield. The Reds are certainly worth keeping an eye on.

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