The New Year started with the abysmal performance against Wolves still very fresh in our minds and it was up to Roy Hodgson and the players to put it right against Bolton. The result against the Trotters’ may have been in our favour but it certainly wasn’t the performance we wanted to start a new year.
Raul Meireles was injured early in the first half and was replaced by a less than 100% fit Steven Gerrard. Kevin Davies then put the visitors in front just before the break and it had all the feelings of “here we go again”. The second half started brightly and Torres scored probably the best goal of the season thus far after Gerrard’s clipped cross found the Spaniard who rifled home on the volley.
Time was running out and we all knew a draw wasn’t a good enough result. On came Joe Cole in the last ten minutes and it was the former Chelsea and West Ham man who got us the winner with his first Premiership goal for us. Not one of his cleanest strikes but they all count and three points were in the bag.
This was the lift the club needed. This was a fresh start for 2011. And now we were going to put a run together that sees us rise up through the table like no tomorrow.
Well the thought was nice wasn’t it? Because after our visit to one of Roy Hodgson’s former clubs – Blackburn – there weren’t many thoughts like it again. The New Year brought no change to our dismal away form. Or even the dismal away performances. It was another game where we confirmed that the opposition held no fear for Liverpool Football Club.
Martin Olsson and Benjani gave Rovers the lead before the break and the Zimbabwean international Benjani added a third just before the hour. What a way for Steve Kean to celebrate being handed the managers’ job on a permanent basis. We did pull one back through Steven Gerrard and our skipper went on to win a penalty to claw the game back to 3-2 but he subsequently missed the spot kick.
The penalty was an awful one and sort of summed up our time under Roy Hodgson to a tee. And it was that penalty that was the last major talking point of Hodgson’s Liverpool career.
Because by the time we played our next match, Man United in the FA Cup third round, we had a new manager. But the unveiling of the new manager was bigger than the match itself. Who could you employ that would make bigger news than Manchester United v Liverpool in the FA Cup third round at Old Trafford? The two biggest clubs in England, if not the world. The two most successful clubs in the English game, with us edging it in terms of success. One man could be bigger than the match though he didn’t want any fuss made over him.
The return of the King was bigger news than the match itself. Kenny Dalglish was renamed Liverpool manager the day before we travelled to Old Trafford. Almost twenty years on since he left after the four all draw with Everton in the FA Cup, he returned to the Liverpool hot seat.
The excitement of Kenny’s return was short lived though as Howard Webb gave a penalty to United in the opening minute after Berbatov’s dive earned the home side the spot kick. Ryan Giggs stepped up and narrowly managed to beat Pepe Reina.
As the game went on though, the King’s influence was clear to see as we continued to dominate despite being up against United and the officials. Our momentum wasn’t even stopped when our captain was, harshly, sent off for a tackle on Michael Carrick. A one footed lunge saw Stevie see red but Rafael’s double footed tackle on Meireles minutes earlier went unpunished.
I will give Webb credit though, he was consistent. Well, he was consistent in getting every single decision wrong but what do you expect from England’s best referee eh? So Kenny’s return saw us lose but if his return overshadowed the pre-match talks then Webb’s inability to officiate fairly certainly took over the post-match talking. It even resulted in Ryan Babel being the first footballer to be fined over Twitter.
Our number 19 posted a mock up picture of Howard Webb in a Man United shirt on his Twitter page but the FA being the sensitive cu*ts they are, especially where United are concerned, decided to fine the Dutchman. Babel has come in for a lot of stick during his time at Anfield but posting that picture means he’ll always have a place in Liverpool folklore.
Next up for Kenny was a trip to Blackpool, who famously beat us at Anfield earlier in the season. We couldn’t let Holloway’s Tangerine Army do the double over us and it looked as if we had stopped those hopes when Torres put us in front within the opening five minutes. Torres latched onto a through ball from Martin Kelly, who’d rightly kept his place at right back after impressing at Old Trafford, and then our number 9 smashed it past the Blackpool keeper. Floodgates were to open next.
Actually no they didn’t. Instead the home side took the upper hand and pushed us back and got back on level terms when, lifelong Liverpool fan, Gary Taylor-Fletcher equalised after strolling through our fragile defence. This knocked us completely and Blackpool continued to dominate before finally getting their just rewards when DJ Campbell headed home with about twenty minutes left.
Again, the Liverpool defence was shown up like it has been all too often this season. A good side is built from the back, maybe that’s why this side isn’t performing to an acceptable standard. Although, Martin Kelly again came out with rave reviews about his performance. If only the rest could perform as well as he has.
We couldn’t dwell on the fact Blackpool had done the double over us for too long though because next up was the Merseyside Derby. Kenny’s first home game since he returned was against the side who his last away game, first time round, was against. It was written in the stars that three points were coming home with us.
And the way we played first half was like rolling back the years. Pass and move football, central midfielders going on beyond the front man, both full backs bombing forward and the wingers getting into goalscoring opportunities. Alls we lacked was the goal that our dominance and football deserved.
That soon ended though when Raul Meireles, who’d recently copped some stick from the fans, blasted one past Tim Howard from the edge of the box on the half hour mark.
But lightning does strike twice because after taking the lead we found ourselves two-one down just as we did at Bloomfield Road. Straight from the restart Everton won a corner, that should have been a goal kick, and they scored through a Sylvain Distin header. The French centre half lost Martin Skrtel, who decided to jump with his back to the ball and allow Distin a free header to make the scores level.
Skrtel was again at fault moments later when he was turned too easily before the ball was played into Beckford who happily took the chance to give the Toffees the lead. Three defeats in three games for Kenny, two being against our bitterest rivals, it couldn’t be could it?
Luckily in the Derby though we got a point out of it. Not the result we wanted but Dirk Kuyt’s penalty saw the spoils shared. Maxi Rodriquez was brought down by the Everton keeper and Kuyt, in place of the suspended Gerrard, stepped up and confidently knocked it home. Dalglish’s first point since returning and at least something to build upon.
Shortly after the Derby, it was announced we’d accepted a bid for Ryan Babel from German outfit 1899 Hoffenheim and the Dutchman headed to the Bundesliga less than week later. In between the bid being accepted and Babel leaving, we faced Wolves in what was our best performance for a very long time – though Babel played no part in the match himself.
The movement of the players was just a joy to behold. It was a pass and move master class that Mick McCarthy’s men couldn’t cope with. Christian Poulsen played through Meireles, who laid it into the middle for Torres, who undoubtedly scored with about ten minutes to go in the first half.
The second half saw us continue in the same vein and when the ball was headed out by the Wolves defence, we thought another pass and move attack was about to begin. But Raul Meireles, fresh from his goal against Everton, had other ideas. He let the ball drop out of the sky onto his right foot and rifled home a twenty-yard volley into the top corner. Two in two now for the Portuguese international was just the lift he needed after his recent performances.
But the best was still to come because with time running out we rolled back the years again and played keep ball. Torres scored his second of the game and his third in three games but the move was what was more pleasing. 30 passes put us into a position where Kuyt could play the 31st pass of the move to Torres to knock home from about twelve yards out. Every player, bar Martin Kelly, touched the ball during the move and it was one of the greatest team goals you’ll ever see.
Kenny’s first win and our first clean sheet in over a month. Not only that, but we won and played well away from home. I’d forgot what that felt like. Christ did I enjoy remembering though. Now things were on the move and we could maybe look forward to a bright future.
A win against Fulham, which we got through a John Pantsil own goal, would see us move into seventh and only nine points off a Champions League place. With Chelsea playing host to us in a few weeks that deficit could be made even smaller, especially if we get three points this Wednesday against Stoke at Anfield.
Back to the Fulham game, it wasn’t the same performance as it was against Wolves. Steven Gerrard returned after suspension but we just didn’t seem to click in the same way. We still had chances, with Meireles’ header from a Kelly cross being the closest we came. But Fulham scored for us after some confusion between Panstil and goalkeeper David Stockdale with the Fulham right back slicing the ball into his own net.
The Cottagers never really threatened but had one clear chance, which was hit straight at Reina. The rest of their efforts were long distance and we won without really struggling. Though the last ten minutes were a little uncomfortable, it was never a case of hanging on by the skin of our teeth.
Back-to-back wins and clean sheets really did have us believing that we could push on in the final few months of the season, as did the much-anticipated transfer of Ajax’s Uruguayan international Luis Suarez. We were also heavily linked with Charlie Adam and in fact had bids turned down for Blackpool’s captain.
We all imagined that Ryan Babel would be the only player leaving the club on a permanent basis this window but what happened in the last few days of the transfer window left a bitter taste in the mouth of a lot of Liverpool fans. Chelsea had a £35 million bid rejected for Fernando Torres but “Liverpool’s Number Nine” then handed in a transfer request.
After everything he’d said in the past, most couldn’t believe this. After him and the entire side just finding their form under Dalglish, why now would he want to leave? It didn’t make sense other than more money. The club initially rejected the transfer request but told Chelsea to up their bid to £50 million and they could have their man.
On transfer deadline day, Suarez officially became our player and took the number 7 shirt while Chelsea did offer us the £50 million and were given permission to speak to Torres. Though it dragged on and on and on, on deadline day, it was always going to go through that he’d left us for one of our rivals.
Before he joined Ancelotti’s men, we’d made two bids of over £30 million for Newcastle’s Andy Carroll. Both were rejected but third time lucky we were given permission to speak to their number 9 after a £35 million bid was accepted. He passed his medical and became our record transfer.
Minutes later Torres became a Chelsea player breaking the British transfer record fee of a player bought by a British club. We’d ourselves broke it with the Andy Carroll deal.
Carroll was told he’d wear the number 9 shirt, though he won’t be fit to wear it for a while yet. While Torres is expected to wear his new shirt for the first time against us this Sunday. Just a shame that Luis Suarez will be outshining him this Sunday isn’t it.
A month of complete surprises, Dalglish’s return and Torres’ leaving but Liverpool Football Club is always surprising people. It’s what we do. And we haven’t got time to catch our breath after this window because we have a match tomorrow where we can keep the pressure on those above us.
Just remember that we’ll always be Liverpool Football Club, not everybody understands that but we as fans do. The fans will always be here long after any player, so lets not get down about a player leaving but instead lets focus our attention to those who want to be part of the greatest club in the world.