Liverpool v Chelsea, ninth played sixth at Anfield. Don’t look for significance in FA Cup frills at Wembley, or in Munich in Chelsea’s case. The Premier League table tells all.
Chelsea have, through the addition of one pot, and possibly two, managed to offset temporarily the impact of a poor league showing but not necessarily the consequences. Liverpool have the Carling Cup. So what? Not even the most ardent Kopite would see progress in that.
Performance in the league cannot be embroidered. We can ignore the meaningless flogging of a depleted Chelsea. The factors bearing down on both institutions are not dissimilar.
They are housed in outmoded homes that no longer meet the needs of 21st century elite clubs. Liverpool frittered £50 million pursuing the failed new palazzo in Stanley Park, while Chelsea are hoping to plug into the old power station at Battersea.
The playing infrastructure is equally in need of overhaul. Those old grandees John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba have roused themselves in a magnificent show of Champions League defiance that may yet yield an unlikely victory later this month, but are plainly unable to meet the demand imposed by the Premier League. The late flowering of Fernando Torres is hardly persuasive, either.
The man who replaced him at Anfield has fared no better. Andy Carroll for England? Can a hot 30 minutes in pursuit of a lost cause at Wembley erase the evidence tattooed across the Anfield turf in a season of minimal returns? One goal at home all season. Carroll, or ‘big Andy’ as Kenny Dalglish likes to call him, has come to symbolise Liverpool’s shortcomings. The failure of Dalglish to tease from him something of the unstoppable force he unleashed during his FA Cup cameo could be terminal for both.
Had Liverpool fashioned a positive result against Chelsea at Wembley it would not have conferred prosperity on the Dalglish regime. The capture of the Carling Cup, albeit Liverpool’s first trophy in six years, is equally irrelevant.
The 30-plus points deficit to the Manchester juggernauts is the real barometer of Liverpool’s health, a number sure to crunch dissonantly in the sabermetric machine beloved of the club’s American ownership.
Emotion is supposed not to come into the calculations of the Fenway Group, yet it is surely only sentiment that has kept Dalglish in his post this long. The £110 million entrusted to him, a hefty chunk of which went on Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing in a high-risk gamble to propel Liverpool back into the Champions League, has effectively passed through the Premier League shredder.
With one game remaining Liverpool are a midtable presence with Fulham, West Brom and Sunderland. They have scored just 24 goals at Anfield, their lowest at home in more than a hundred years, a meagre stipend that underpinned a record of nine draws, four defeats and only six wins. Dalglish will require all his guile to put a gloss on that in his end of season report, assuming the pen is not torn from his grasp before he sits down to write it.
Dalglish’s insistence that Carroll was a virtuous purchase at £35 million and deserves our patience does not square with the requirements of the age. A cheque that big buys goals not potential. Henderson and Downing have proved equally poor investments, for which Dalglish must take responsibility.
Both clubs would have wanted a league encounter in May to be significant in a way the Manchester derby was a week ago.
Chelsea waved goodbye to the mathematical interest they retained in Champions League qualification via the conventional route with the defeat at Anfield and will need to beat Bayern Munich to gain entry to Europe’s top table next year. Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions withered long ago.
In the glow of the 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea, Dalglish maintained that it had been a good season for Liverpool. Sorry Kenny. That won’t wash. The day eighth place is good enough for Liverpool is the day they tear down the Shankly Gates.