Four issues affecting Liverpool's top four challenge

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Liverpool continue to display green shoots of progress under Kenny Dalglish, and 9 months into the Scot’s second coming Anfield his side look capable re-joining European football’s elite for the first time since the 2009/10 season.


But frustratingly for the Anfield faithful, Liverpool have demonstrated something of a soft underbelly this season, dropping points against Swansea, Norwich and most recently Fulham as the lost ground to Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal in the race for a precious Champions League spot.


If the Reds are to continue their progress under Dalglish and move on to the next level this season then they must address these five issues.


Find a replacement for Jamie Carragher


Liverpool have a good batch of youngsters and look well set for both the future and the present, but crucially they appear lacking at the heart of the defence.


If Steven Gerrard were to walk away from football tomorrow Liverpool could cope; Charlie Adam has done excellently this season, Lucas Leiva has stepped up wonderfully, Jordan Henderson is growing while Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey wait in the wings.


When it comes to that other Liverpool stalwart, Jamie Carragher however, there is far less cover.


There are high hopes that Sebastian Coates can step up to the plate but a more experienced player in the transfer window would do them a world of good.


Get the best out of Andy Carroll


Popular opinion is on the verge of turning against Andy Carroll. Five goals since his arrival from Newcastle last January isn’t exactly the return expected of a £35 million striker, especially when he plays along a £22 million striker that has set the Premier League alight.


The England international has resembled something of a relic from a bygone era in his recent appearances compared to Suarez; while the Uruguayan is full of verve and movement Carroll appears confined by his role as “big man up top” and simply isn’t contributing enough.


The fact that being match fit and available haven’t come along hand in hand all that much for Caroll this year hasn’t helped either, but Dalglish was ultimately the one who splashed the cash, and he must work with his man to ensure his Liverpool career takes off.


Find cover for Lucas


It’s a funny world where the loss of Lucas is lamented as the worse thing to happen to Liverpool for some time when a glance back to the start of the Brazilian’s career saw him lamented as everything that was wrong with the club.


Be that as it may his improvement since those dark days is something special and he had become central to Liverpool’s improvement this season; against Manchester City he harried and hustled the Roberto Mancini’s men out of the game and before his injury against Chelsea appeared in the form of his life.


Now Liverpool are without him and their anchor point has gone. In his place Dalglish must choose from a smattering of youngsters before Gerrard returns. He must either hope Gerrard finds his feet immediately with Adam dropping deeper or he may be tempted to delve into the market.


Curb Luis Suarez exuberance


Another week and another controversy for Luis Suarez, this time for swearing at the Fulham fans after his side’s 1-0 defeat. The FA have subsequently charged him with improper conduct while the investigation into his altercation with Patrice Evra is still on-going.


Dalglish is no fool and will know the key to the former Ajax man’s energy and exuberance relies on his passion in a similar way to Wayne Rooney but Suarez already has an impressive rap sheet. Dalglish must remind him that he can only do damage to opponents on the field, and not from the stands.

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