It’s usually wise not to judge a team after just two league games, but in Liverpool’s case it might be possible to make an exception. The problems that Kenny Dalglish failed to address last year still persist, and you can expect to see them outside the Champions League places again this year. The big four are all comfortably stronger – at least Arsenal will be if they actually sign a player for each they have shed.
Liverpool’s biggest problem last season was that Dalglish managed a squad overflowing with mediocrity. This wasn’t his doing, signing the most middling Premiership talent is Liverpool’s established transfer protocol. It has its roots going back to Roy Evans’ days. Rafa Benitez did it out of choice, not just because of the Texan owners: he signed so many players he could have fielded four full teams. Roy Hodgson couldn’t resist similar methods, and he signed Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky to disastrous effect. It got him the sack, alienating the supporters and success at the same time.
This season the problem has not been solved, if anything it has been exacerbated. Jordan Henderson is potential and no product. It’s not to criticise him as a player, it’s just that he’s a signing Liverpool can’t carry right now. It would be fine if Gerrard were still at the top of his game, or Xabi Alonso or Javier Mascherano were still there, but they’re not – there’s no great player to learn from, and he could easily stagnate.
Jose Enrique is a good player with Premier League experience, but he is certainly not good enough to go to a top four team, and let Liverpool challenge for the Champions League places. If he were good enough for one of the Big Four, then they would have bought him. Manchester City even chose the dodgy Gael Clichy instead. That all four chose to ignore him at such a cheap price suggests that Enrique has fulfilled his potential – he is not a defender to significantly improve Liverpool.
Charlie Adam is the definition of mediocrity, looking good in a struggling Blackpool side when he had the ball, he was lazy and dirty without it. He’s easily defined: a good passer and a very poor footballer. Who can he replace of the existing squad? There has been plenty of speculation that he’s the new, Scottish Xabi Alonso. The difficulty with that comparison is that one is tactically astute, bound for greater things, and the brains of a side, whereas the other is Charlie Adam. The biggest worry, though, is not a player Dalglish signed, but one he inherited. Steven Gerrard was a great player, and if it wasn’t for Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, he would be remembered as the best midfielder of the Premier League. Now though, he is facing a decline. His best attribute was his energy and drive – it allowed him to make up for his occasionally wayward shooting and merely competent passing, and this is what his game is now losing. It remains to be seen if he is intelligent enough to evolve and carry the new generation.
Of course, they signed Luis Suarez, a player who is superior to anything offered by Fernando Torres last year and probably this, but it’s not enough. Complemented by an oaf, Andy Carroll, capable of a clean strike and little else, or David N’Gog, capable of little, Suarez is wasted at Liverpool.
The performances of this season match last season so precisely, there’s reason to think that Liverpool will remain the best of midtable once again. Against Sunderland they played well enough for 45 minutes but did not possess the defensive solidity to hang onto a lead nor the attacking guile to score another. The blame lies on all the players, but a strong, intelligent midfield would have addressed both problems most efficiently. None of the new signings offer these qualities in combination, or in some cases, at all.
Against Arsenal, they looked set for a deserved draw, and no more, until the ball hit Aaron Ramsey amusingly in the face. Fans will hope these are early season stumbles and that Kenny Dalglish has the cure for the long term. However, given that the problems he’s got are the problems they’ve had for the past two years, it looks unlikely.