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  • Sep 3, 2014
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Three games to make or break King Kenny's campaign

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am

Perception, they say, is everything. As the Liverpool faithful continue to talk up the revival under 'King Kenny', the reality is that things are only marginally better than last season.

If they fall to a highly possible defeat at Stamford Bridge tomorrow, the Reds will have just three more points than they did after a dozen games under the much-criticised reign of Roy Hodgson.

And now, with Luis Suarez being charged with racial abuse, Kenny Dalglish faces the possibility of being without his best player for several matches should the Uruguayan be found guilty.

There is no doubt the fluid and attractive passing game under Dalglish is a vast improvement on the stodgy style of the past couple of years. But the distraction of the Suarez case is the last thing the veteran manager needs as he enters a nerve-jangling nine days during which his season could be defined.

After tomorrow's match, Liverpool host table leaders Manchester City next weekend before another game away to Chelsea, in the League Cup quarter-finals, just 48 hours later.

If it doesn't go according to plan, the Reds could enter December in eighth position, already out of one competition and with their top striker on the sidelines.

Even with the immense respect that Dalglish's long connection to the club brings, fans would have a right to ask why the target of a top-four finish again seems unachievable.

Backed by the Fenway Sports Group, Dalglish has spent a reported GBP105 million (HK$1.29 billion) since taking over in January, which dwarfs the funds made available to Hodgson and Rafa Benitez under the previous owners.

Benitez's final season, in which Liverpool finished seventh, is rightly remembered as a deep disappointment. And yet his side was in an almost identical position to where Dalglish's men now find themselves.

In the happier, previous campaign under Benitez when the Reds came within a whisker of winning the title eventually claimed by Manchester United, they were in second spot after 11 matches on 26 points.

It is not time to panic, as Liverpool are unbeaten since September, although three home draws in their past four matches was highly unsatisfactory. But Dalglish needs to take a good, hard look at which of his fresh recruits are not doing the business. While the excellent Suarez, Jose Enrique, and to a lesser extent Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam, have performed, Andy Carroll (GBP35 million) and Jordan Henderson (GBP16 million) are not living up to their price tags.

Would a return to the youth policy work better? Dalglish will remember the relative success he enjoyed at the end of last season when he threw a batch of unheralded tearaways into the mix, including Jay Spearing, John Flanagan, Jonjo Shelvey and Jack Robinson. But it is risky to assume this raw brigade could immediately achieve the consistent results needed to guarantee Champions League soccer for 2012-13, which is the stated minimum requirement for this season.

No one will argue with Dalglish's decision in January to sell off the fast-fading Fernando Torres for GBP50 million. But the sight of old boy Raul Meireles - a GBP12 million August deadline-day departure - wearing a blue shirt sits less comfortably with the Anfield faithful.

Eighteen months after Benitez departed, there's growing speculation about how the Champions League-winning manager would have done with the kind of cash Dalglish now has access to. Between 2006 and 2008, Benitez reportedly set up moves for the likes of David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Dani Alves and Pato, only to see them fall through because the cash-conscious club was slow to act.

Benitez never won the League Cup during his six-year tenure. But this secondary competition may suddenly become important to Dalglish, despite his threats to play an under-strength side because of the fixture congestion.

With not even the Europa League to aim for, how Liverpool perform in domestic Cup competitions might provide a crumb of comfort should the clubs above them in the league table pull away.

That is why the first of the Chelsea games is so crucial. Win, and Liverpool are level with their London rivals and on the brink of the top four. Lose, and they could be 15 points off the premiership pace and 10 adrift of their arch enemies, Manchester United.

In recent weeks, Dalglish has huffed and puffed about elements conspiring against his side, from poor refereeing to crazy scheduling to the trend that sees his unlucky forwards and midfielders hitting the woodwork more times than any other team this season.

But, privately, the Scotsman will be wondering why things aren't going better. He knows they are close to 'clicking', but for some reason they're not.

It could all start tomorrow - but if it doesn't, he might need to find another source of blame.

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