View from the Kop

How Do Liverpool Solve The Right-Side Riddle?

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AS a Liverpool fan, the return of Kenny Dalglish to the top job, coupled with the new owners, and their seemingly sound sporting background and philosophy, came as huge relief following the final dark days of Hicks, Gillette and Hodgson. The plethora of new signings made last January and in the summer, although the fees paid in some cases may have raised a few eyebrows, nonetheless signalled intent and stirred hope of a new dawn for a club steeped in the history and tradition of greatness.

Despite a Premier League campaign that has provided no small degree of frustration for management, players and fans alike, I think it’s fair to say that the club has made significant progress in Kenny Dalglish’s first season in charge, compared to Rafa’s final season, and, of course, the desperate Hodgson era. Whilst we haven’t picked up as many points in the league as we would have liked to, or hoped for, it is worth remembering that we haven’t had the rub of the green in front of goal this season, hitting the woodwork on no fewer than 22 occasions in Premier League matches – but for the frame of the goal we’d be sitting pretty in the Champions’ League spots.

Most of the signings that have come in have done well; Suarez, Enrique, Bellamy, for example. Others have and are showing potential – Adam and Downing, with Henderson and Carroll needing a little more time. This is to be expected for such young lads, making such a big step up and with the heavy burden of large transfer fees on their shoulders, the chances are that with the benefit of more playing time under their belts, they too will come good.

One area in the side that hasn’t been addressed adequately though, is the right side of midfield. There are those who say that Liverpool haven’t had a proper right-sided attacking midfielder since Steve McManaman left the club. Whilst I don’t subscribe whole-heartedly to this view, I can see where it has its basis, as those brought in to play in that position, have seldom made the grade – Jermaine Pennant springs to mind. Yes, the right side has been a riddle for many Liverpool managers for a long time, and Kenny has failed to solve it thus far, in keeping with Houllier, Benitez and Hodgson before him.

This season, Jordan Henderson has been largely used on the right-hand side of a midfield four. Signed, in my view, as a long term replacement for Steven Gerrard, the young midfielder clearly has great potential, with a keen eye for a through-ball, a bright footballing mind and good defensive awareness, however, he looks all at sea when asked to patrol the flank. He isn’t the best dribbler of the ball, nor a wonderful crosser, these are not his key attributes, and though I understand that Kenny wants to give him experience and game-time, playing him there unbalances the midfield and curbs our attacking prowess at times.

Dirk Kuyt the workaholic Dutchman, although signed as a striker to help lead the line, soon became Rafa Benitez’s de-facto right winger. Over the years, he has been a key asset, always giving everything for the cause, producing moments of quality, and of course chipping in with all important goals. Kuyt’s form, and as a result, his minutes on the pitch, have diminished somewhat this season and rumours are circulating that he may leave Liverpool in the summer. I sincerely hope that he doesn’t move on, as his class, attitude, work-rate and goals would be sorely missed. However, I certainly don’t think that we can rely on him to be our starting right midfielder in the future. Kuyt’s lack of pace and trickery lets him down in that position, and, for me, his game intelligence and eye for goal make him better suited to playing in behind a frontman.

Stewart Downing has been used on the right on occasion this season, and sometimes to good effect, in the F.A. Cup against Stoke for example. Playing on the right allows the pacey winger to cut inside and shoot on his stronger left foot, however, his tendency to do that means that our play can become too narrow and centralised, therefore easier to defend against. I would like to see Bellamy and Downing play on either flank for a few games. Both are quick and direct, both scare defences and get them back-pedalling, both are decent crossers, and playing them both would allow them to interchange at will as they can operate down either side. The down sides of doing this are, that they both prefer playing on the left, and with Bellamy pushing 33, it’s not a long-term solution.

The development of Martin Kelly into a bona-fide first team player may help with what has become a perennial problem for the Reds. The 21 year old right-back has put in some magnificent performances of late, both defensively and getting forward, particularly against Arsenal and Everton. His progress has led to the suggestion of playing Glen Johnson further forward, with Kelly in behind; this could work as both have the attributes to get up and down the right side, providing an attacking threat, whilst having the defensive wherewithal to ensure that we’d remain strong at the back. There are question marks, however, about converting defenders into midfielders; sometimes it works, Gareth Bale for example. On the other hand, Chelsea had little success when they attempted to play Wayne Bridge with Ashley Cole down the left.

One player that could solve the conundrum in the long-term, is Raheem Sterling. The youngster has had an outstanding season in the reserves; he has pace to burn, trickery, can run at defences and knows where the back of the net is. Sterling may be a season away from breaking into the first team proper, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get him training with the first team squad, and ease him into the fray gradually over the course of next year.

These are the options open to Kenny Dalglish within the club, there is of course the opportunity to go into the transfer market for a right-sided player in the summer, and we have been linked with quite a few players who could do that job. Scott Sinclair of Swansea, Gaston Ramirez of Bologna, Cristian Erikson of Ajax and Adam Johnson of Manchester City, are all names that we have been linked to, but as of yet, nothing has emerged that is any more than speculation. Whatever happens, the right-hand side is a riddle that needs to be solved if Liverpool Football Club are to reach the heights that the fans demand, and win that all important first Premier League crown.

You can also follow Neil on http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/

And on Twitter  @Neil1980

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  • Costasy says:

    Another dark night of absolute humiliation and embarrassement by Kenny Dalglish and his squad, the squad he has personally chosen and set up for the current season. Kenny Dalglish and his squad tarnish the heritage that Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley left for this historic club. Kenny Dalglish and his squad are committing the biggest crime in this club’s history by molesting on this heritage. Everybody is feeling fed up by listening and reading all the time different irrational statements by the side of Kenny Dalglish as he can persuade first and above all himself that under him the team is progressing! Everytime he leads this team to another humiliating and embarrassing defeat he needs to realize that he places a gravestone to LFC fans’ dreams and expectations in all over the world to see their beloved team returning back to where it really deserves to be! I personally can’t explain it otherwise; Kenny Dalglish is on a denial stage! He doesn’t realize that by not seeing the raw reality, that he is not a capable manager for the modernized football and the manager who can turn the fortunes of this club around and as long as he behaves in a selfish manner he causes a serious damage! Back in 1991 he stepped down as LFC manager in a period which that was unnecessary and now that it is imperative to do so, why doesn’t him? ISN’T THAT A REAL PROOF OF A SELFISH, EGOISTIC, AND ARROGANT BEHAVIOR?

    • Bekim says:

      Well said mate. I coudnt put it any better even if I tried. If u look at the league table u c where we r and he and lots of fans r telling us that we r progressing. 115million spend and we r three points above Swansea City that on its own says it all.

    • i think these days much of the supporters are becoming very disillutional, they are forgetting the fact that we are A WORK IN PROGRESS…success cannot be bought instantly, it takes time…look at the barcelona project which started 20 odd years ago, they are now reaping the rewards….liverpool fans naturally seek trophies overnight, thats how high the stakes are at the club….yes liverpool have spent over £100m but they have also recouped over £50m in sales…LUCK has not been on our side, honestly i cannot remember such a season of bad luck, hitting the woodwork more times in the season than anyone else, which is also a record in the EPL for a single season, added to the fact we have had one of the worst penalty conversion rate in the EPL this season, down to missing the captain fantastic steven gerrard…the way i see it is we are playing better more attack minded football, creating more and more chances, and our defense is ver solid and realiable…..all this talk about SACKING Kenny Dalglish is absolute NONSENSE…this is a man who people were admiring and adoring last season….every manager goes through the faze of doing something wrong in the transfer market…people forget the signings of suarez, enrique, bellamy….the media doesn’t help the supporters by giving them false, bias information……i just want OUR SUPPORTERS to realise what KK has done for this club, look at the positives not the negatives, the positives outway the negatives anyway, my one question is, IF KK is not wanted, who would be his replacement???…i bleve KK is the right man for the job, give him time and he will deliver….after all we are a club who are still….WORK IN PROGRESS…we are not the finish article like barcelona yet…..YNWA !!!

  • Ashok says:

    Well said mates! Lets become chelsea and sack kenny. Rafa, hudgson and now kenny. Why do we expect that every coach should win champions league very first season. Pls give kenny atleast till the end of the season. Winning Carling cup and a possible fa cup is not a bad going. I know the importance of champions league but kenny is mr liverpool. If he will feel that he is not taking lfc forward he will himself leave. Pls show respect.

  • Ndu Cele says:

    I honestly though building a team around British talent was his 1st mistake England has not threatened to win anything in a while so it made absolutely no sense to do this. Paid to much for Downing,Henderson and Carrol but I’m sure Connolli could account for that.

  • Jimmy Areabi says:

    …back to the actual topic of this article…
    The writer actually highlights a big, interesting issue at our club that has been going on for quite a while. What is our best right-side combination? I would love to see Kelly-Johson given a go at some point, and for a period of time (if either of them stay fit long enough!). I can only presume Johnson does not want to be considered further forward, as to why it hasn’t been tried already. It would be much like the way Rafa pushed Riise forward, ahead of Aurelio/Traore and the like. This was to take advantage of Riise’s ability in going forward (a la Johnson) whilst remaining quite solid from front to back down the wing.

  • Achilles says:

    Liverpool’s problems this season especially away from home is due to the personnel involved on the pitch. These personnel as we saw at QPR are not able to catch teams late on on the fast break therefore allowing teams such as QPR to push up and compress the play. It is time now in the last nine games to start Sterling from the start and for Dalglish to cut out his stonewalling chickens–t attitude.

  • NJRedsFan says:

    I have been trying to forward the idea of Johnson at right mid for most of the season. Once again I will say that he has been our most dangerous threat down the right, he’kl take it to the end line and cross fairly well and will also attack the box.

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