Reds reached the FA Cup fifth round with a 2-1 win over bitter rivals Manchester United on Saturday, three days after booking their place in the League Cup finalCOMMENT
By Greg Stobart at Anfield
A week ago, Kenny Dalglish was feeling the strain amid accusations that Liverpool were going nowhere following a depressing defeat at Bolton.
Seven days later, the Reds are going to Wembley, maybe twice. Dalglish has steered Liverpool into the final of the League Cup and the fifth round of the FA Cup after victories over both Manchester clubs.
On Saturday, Manchester United were the victims as Liverpool beat their bitter rivals 2-1 thanks to a winner drilled into the bottom corner two minutes from time by substitute Dirk Kuyt. When all thoughts were drifting to a replay, the Dutchman smashed the Reds into the last 16 to send Anfield into ecstasy.
It’s been some turnaround since the Scot questioned his players’ commitment at the Reebok Stadium, warning that some could be shown the door if they didn’t buck up their ideas.
After a poor run in the Premier League that has seen them pick up just six points from their last six games, Liverpool’s season has been reignited by their cup form.
It all could have fallen apart in the last week, but instead the Reds have a purpose and momentum that could well rub off on their league form.
Great Dane | Agger celebrates his goal in Liverpool's FA Cup win over United
Dalglish will always be a hero for the Kop but his side’s stuttering form this season - which leaves them seventh in the Premier League - has raised legitimate questions after more than £100 million of spending on new players since he took over as manager in January 2011.
The Liverpool boss has made a point of saying that just getting to Wembley is not enough for a club of such history. He is looking to rebuild the trophy-winning mentality associated with the great Liverpool teams of the past, in which Dalglish himself played such a huge part as a player and manager.
Dalglish would rebuff any suggestion that he masterminded the change in Liverpool’s fortunes, preferring to credit his players for their skill, organisation and application.
But he has made the right decisions in the last week. Craig Bellamy started against Manchester City as the lone striker and produced a man-of-the-match display, scoring the decisive goal to give the Reds an aggregate victory.
On Saturday, Andy Carroll was selected to spearhead the attack and, though the £35m man has been deeply disappointing this season, he played a key role in the outcome of the match.
It was Carroll who occupied David de Gea as the United goalkeeper grasped at thin air and Daniel Agger headed the hosts into the lead; and the former Newcastle man won the header in the 88th minute to put Kuyt through on goal to score.
For much of the game, Carroll was isolated and static, but he worked hard and played his part in a team victory, nearly scoring himself in the dying stages with a powerful header.
It was far from the perfect victory for Liverpool, lacking the intensity of their stellar performance against City as they conceded possession to United, for whom Paul Scholes pulled the strings until his legs tired and he was substituted 14 minutes from time.
Yet Liverpool huffed and puffed, roared on by the crowd, and booked their place in the fifth round. Dalglish’s reaction, arms raised towards the main stand with a huge grin on his face, showed how much it meant.
Even though some were keen to make an issue of the abuse of Patrice Evra, on his first return to Anfield since the Luis Suarez race row, the football took over on Saturday lunchtime.
Evra was predictably the subject of boos from Liverpool fans disbelieving of his account of the events in October that led to Suarez receiving an eight-match ban from the FA.
It was, however, kept by and large within acceptable boundaries at a football match, even if Dalglish was a bit optimistic in dismissing the abuse of Evra as ‘a bit of banter’ as he rightly praised both sets of supporters for their conduct.
Liverpool have work to do to re-establish themselves among the elite, with a top-four finish remaining the priority for this season. But two wins in a week against the best two teams in the country is a sure sign of progress, as would be a first trophy since 2006.
Those who were starting to doubt Dalglish’s rebuilding job on Merseyside will accept it is back on track. The cups have seen to that and now Liverpool can look forward, to Wembley and a brighter future.
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