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The Libero - Talk of terminal decline at Liverpool is premature

Published: 29 Sep 2010 - 08:03:53

The vultures are circling Anfield, already beginning to sense a Roy Hodgson-shaped meal - and we're not even in October yet.

It's a sorry state of affairs for any club, let alone one of Liverpool's stature, but just six league games and one cup outing into the Hodgson era, the new manager's position is already being brought into question.

The brutal facts are that Liverpool have won six points from a possible 18 so far this Premier League season while they were unceremoniously dumped out of the Carling Cup at the first hurdle by a team who ply their trade three tiers below them. Clearly, that is quite unacceptable.

But, equally, it is not that bad. At least not as bad as some are making out.

With the entire country either whipping themselves into a panic-stricken frenzy (Liverpool fans) or frothing at the mouth in a fit of excited gloating (everybody else), it is easy to get carried away with the once great club's apparent decline over the past 16 months.

But are things really that awful?

Yes, there are problems off the pitch and the continued uncertainty over club's ownership is undoubtedly having a negative impact on events on it.

And yes, Hodgson is yet to get the best out of both the players he inherited from Rafa Benitez and those he bought in himself over the summer - results so far this season have proven that.

But, the club will be sold before too long. It has to be. This is Liverpool Football Club we're talking about, one of the most glamorous and tradition-rich clubs in the world; this state of affairs cannot last forever and a suitable buyer will be found.

And once that happens, it is fair to assume that the stability that has been reached in the boardroom will gradually filter down through the ranks, permeating Hodgson before in turn reaching his players.

The players, obviously, are crucial to Liverpool's immediate future and as long as they are underperforming, the club will go nowhere.

But those currently at the manager's disposal are not bad players. Far from it. Hodgson has some excellent players in his squad, he just needs to get the best out of them, something which so far he has failed to do.

The spine of any team is vital, and Liverpool's is still exemplary. Jose Reina in goal is one of the best in the country, Steven Gerrard is still as inspiring as ever and Fernando Torres is a proven goalscorer of the highest calibre, if a little off-form at the moment.

And with Jamie Carragher providing a wealth of experience at centre-half, the core of Liverpool's side is as strong as any in the division.

Add in new signings Raul Meireles, Christian Poulsen - both quality international players - and Joe Cole - who admittedly still has a lot to prove after a nightmare start to his Anfield career - and on paper Liverpool have a fine side.

Indeed, it is no weaker than the one which Benitez guided to second place in the Premier League two seasons ago, when a prosperous new era was apparently about to dawn.

The only player of any real note to have left the club since then is Javier Mascherano and while he was undoubtedly a pivotal cog in the Red machine, Poulsen is more than capable of filling the Argentine's boots.

And he will do. As will Torres regain his form and as Cole will spark into life before too long. They just need time to do so.

This season was always going to be one of transition for Liverpool. A poor campaign last time out, the ongoing boardroom wranglings and the arrival of a new boss meant it could never have been otherwise. Yet already that seems to have been forgotten and any patience that was forthcoming at the beginning of the season has since been chucked out of the window.

Reina said this week that Hodgson needs at least six months before he can be expected to lift the club out of their current malaise. He makes a valid point, but one which the excitable red tops appear unable, or unwilling, to grasp.

A quick look at Liverpool's midfield quintet in the weekend's draw with Sunderland shows that three of the five were still box-fresh summer arrivals. The expectation for the players, all of whom are playing under a new manager, to gel together as a team so quickly is unreasonable.

If they are still struggling in the New Year, then maybe then would be the time to start asking some questions. But certainly not just six games into the season. And especially considering Liverpool are currently just two points off a Europa League spot - an achievement many would have taken, and probably still will, come the end of the current campaign.

They are only five points off Manchester City in fourth for goodness sake, so who is to say that even a Champions League place is out of the question? The season is still very much in its embryonic form, and to erase such a minor deficit with another 96 to be played for is an entirely plausible scenario.

Perhaps all it needs for Liverpool to get back on track is a fully fit and rested Torres and a decent result to spark it all off. Confidence plays a huge role in any football team's fortunes.

Sure, things may not be as rosy as they have been in the past on the red half of Merseyside at the moment, but talk of terminal decline is nothing short of nonsense.

And for those Reds fans still unable to see the woods from the trees, don't worry, some consolation can perhaps be taken in the knowledge that at least Everton are worse.

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.

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