FRISCO, Texas (AP) – Between August 1 and August 12, FOX Soccer will be profiling each Barclays Premier League club in the build up to the 2011-12 season. We start with Liverpool FC.
For the Reds, it all comes down to King Kenny, as we started to learn on January 8, 2011, when the Liverpool legend started his second tour of duty in charge of the club. Between then and season's end, Dalglish took a club that persisted in a relegation battle under Roy Hodgson to the edge of Europe, a rise that started in earnest at Stamford Bridge.
February 6 was supposed to be Fernando Torres's great unveiling with the Blues, but while he was rolled out against his former team, the result was anything but great for the team that bought the Anfield icon. Raul Miereles's 69th minute goal gave the Reds their fourth straight victory, reason to believe that a year and half's insecurities could be cast aside, and proof that the King was the only icon they needed.
And if those lessons needed to be reinforced, a month later Manchester United came to Anfield, but thanks to a hat trick from Dirk Kuyt, the Red Devils were sent back to Manchester with their three match win streak against the Reds snapped.
It was the sweetest victory of Dalglish's rescue operation and also a magic end to what had been a very, very troubled year. The question is whether the King can finally lead Liverpool back to the top of English football.
If we're frank about it, Liverpool were left smarting at year's end, despite all the good vibes. After all, they ended up watching United take their 19th top-flight title, a total that surpasses the Reds' proudest record. That's unacceptable at Anfield, and job one for Dalglish is setting that right. But, having said that, it had been a nigh-disastrous year for the club both on and off the field. Just pulling the club out of free-fall should have been enough.
Let's start with the tenure of owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., who had the team seized from them by the Royal Bank of Scotland for unpaid debts. In swept John W. Henry and New England Sports Ventures, owners of the Boston Red Sox, who got one of the top clubs in world football for a pretty reasonable sum. Hicks and Gillett sued, but to no avail, leaving one of the world's most historic clubs in the hands of what would become Fenway Sports Group.
Hodgson wilted under the arc lights, making some seriously unwise signings (Paul Konchesky being Exhibit A), and when Henry brought Dalglish back to the club that made him famous, the team immediately responded. It helped that Liverpool made one of the great deals in sports history, unloading the useless Torres to Chelsea for a staggering $80 million, replacing him with Ajax's Luis Suarez and Newcastle's Andy Carroll. Both men paid dividends and have formed one of the most effective partnerships in the Prem.
Since then, Dalglish has been busy, cutting loose deadwood like Konchesky and while signing a series of big guns: Jordan Henderson, Blackpool hero Charlie Adam, Villa player of the year Stewart Downing, and the impressive Mexican youngsters Nacho and Marco Buena. Also on the Reds' radar: sturdy Uruguyan wingback Alvaro Pereira from Porto.
Who ends up playing, particularly given the glut of guys in midfield, is anyone's guess. In fact, that glut means that one of the folks who may be departing -- unthinkable even six months ago -- is Raul Meireles, arguably the MVP for much of last season. The current midfield has 10 legitimate contenders for starting jobs, so someone is going to be unhappy.
Once he returns from injury, Steven Gerrard is in for sure; if Dalglish is smart, so is Dirk Kuyt, who finally showed how creative he can be when given room to roam. Henderson, Downing and Adam are going to get early looks; Lucas may be left on the outside looking in. Jonjo Shelvey impressed in his appearances last year but is only 19; Jay Spearing could be on the outside but again, is only 22. Maxi Rodriguez, Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen and Meireles may all be locked out.
Pepe Reina is your backstop, in front of a still pretty tepid defense. Glen Johnson and the promising young John Flanagan could end up sharing right back duties and after that only the aging Jamie Carragher is a shoo-in -- though he shouldn't be. You assume Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger are in the mix dead center with Fabio Aurelio out left. It's not a backline roster that inspires much confidence. Up top, it's Suarez and Carroll with Kuyt slipping in when needed; if the Buena brothers are as good as advertised, they will get minutes this season too.
By rights, this should be a top four club -- but higher than that? An open question. Liverpool can win the title, but the Manchester teams look better and Chelsea has to be paid attention to. Arsenal and Spurs will push as well, but the Reds are better than their London rivals.