at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
They had billed it as the game when judgments could finally be made: a season-defining battle that would solve all those unanswered riddles.
In many ways, they were right. Liverpool’s FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea provided clarity on several key issues, such as the squad (it needs reshaping and strengthening), Andy Carroll (he deserves a chance to shine) and the campaign (it will be viewed with bitter disappointment).
Yet, wholly in keeping with this most puzzling 10 months, a fresh set of dilemmas emerged from the wreckage of their latest trip to Wembley, conundrums that must be tackled swiftly to prevent Liverpool being cut adrift from England’s elite teams.
Suddenly the picture of how Liverpool will move forward through the summer is murky and none of the club’s hierarchy would say plans are in place. Or who will oversee them.
Defeat led to inevitable conjecture about Kenny Dalglish’s position. Some supporters are open to the idea of change but the majority are firmly behind a man who was desperate to collect the 28th major honour of his Anfield career.
Yet, on this occasion, the words of reassurance that some longed for were absent. Managing Director Ian Ayre scuttled briskly through the media corridor, declining all interview requests, while principal owner John W Henry offered nothing more than convivial handshakes and ‘hellos’.
Dalglish batted away questions about his relationship with Henry. “We will wait and assess the season for everything that contributes to it until after the last games are finished,” he said. “I cannot be any more honest than that. Everybody is going to sit down and assess what has happened.”
While it is vital to discover why the wheels came off in the Premier League, all eyes will be on Anfield to see how the massive improvements will be made.
Firstly, it is imperative Fenway Sports Group appoint a director of football to oversee the financial, scouting and contractual duties that have been left unattended since Damien Comolli was sacked. Dalglish has said as much himself.
Secondly, it is crucial that FSG decide quickly whether Dalglish is the man for them. If the doubt remains, the inconsistency that has blighted Liverpool’s season will not be expunged. “We have been two different teams this season,” said a disconsolate Steven Gerrard (above). “We have not been good enough in the league but we have done exceptionally well in the cups.
“There are no excuses. We as players need to take responsibility for that showing because the players we have in the dressing room are certainly not eighth best in the league.”
Pepe Reina, Luis Suarez, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel are all top performers and the injured Lucas will be another plus, while Carroll seems to have come of age.
How things have changed for the £35million man. Having had to contend with criticism for buying him, Dalglish now finds himself being criticised for not starting Carroll.
It remains a curious fact that the England striker has not started more than three consecutive games this season.
“We are Liverpool – we will bounce back,” said Gerrard. “We will strengthen in the summer and we will come back and fight again. That’s what this club does. All through my career it’s been about highs and lows. This is a big low but we will be back. I will be back. We are Liverpool.” – Daily Mail