Why Sunderland Will Be Liverpool’s Biggest Test So Far Under Kenny Dalglish

For the past few days, we have been savoring Liverpool’s trademark snack – deliciously grilled, tastier-than-ever Mancs cut into tiny pieces, sandwiched between two undercooked toasts with rough edges; the tasty middle compensating for the sour ends.

The middle portion of the snack was irresistible, though.

A heavy battering handed to our greatest rivals, Luis Suarez’s sensational one-man enactment of the skit ‘Life after Fernando’, The Kop’s birthday song for King Kenny, a wonderful debut cameo by Britain’s most expensive player, Carragher rediscovering his forgotten spite, and renewed hope of Liverpool coming to power and a massive mood lift on the red side of Liverpool.

The above compensated for the sour, but expectedly bitter, end portions consisting of poor away performances in the heavy defeat to relegation-threatened West Ham and a narrow, but equally poor, defeat to Braga in the Europa League. This was followed by another uninspiring, goalless return-leg performance at Anfield.

Liverpool Football Club Home Ground There is nothing like home!

This was hardly a surprise to any Liverpool follower as it has been a trend in the past few seasons. This is why, though Kenny Dalglish may have celebrated his sixtieth in style, there is a long way to go before he cements his seat at the helm of this football club.

And perhaps, the biggest test of his managerial abilities will come when Liverpool face Sunderland next weekend at the Stadium of Light.

The trip to Wearside will pose a tough challenge for Kenny Dalglish to overcome. It has been 15 years since Liverpool won a league match following a win over United at Anfield.

Last season, a United win was sandwiched between away defeats to Sunderland and Fulham. The season before Liverpool played two goalless draws against Villa and Stoke City either side of an Anfield defeat of United. In 2001-02, Liverpool drew at Blackburn after dismantling United with the same scoreline as they have done this season. And finally, in the treble season, a win over United separated two stalemates with Derby and Ipswich. One has to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season, under Roy Evans, to witness such an event; when Liverpool beat United and Arsenal in consecutive matches at Anfield.

It’s quite an astonishing trend. Firstly, it proves that those who claim the ‘form book’ is thrown out of the window in these matches are indeed correct. And secondly, it shows that the players approach this match with a completely different mindset to any other match and thus, require very little motivational impetus. Now, in no way, should this undermine King Kenny’s role in last weekend’s magical win. Without his tactical brilliance and influence, the demolition of the arch rivals would not have been possible.

However, Sunderland will be a completely different prospect for the new manager on three counts – away game, motivation levels, tactics. It is a kind of game Liverpool have struggled in over the years. More often than not, Liverpool have found away fixtures tricky for one reason – the inability to find balance between attack and defense.

At White Hart Lane, for example, Liverpool attacked Tottenham under Hodgson but ended up on the wrong side of a 2-1 scoreline due to poor conversion of chances and leaving of gaps in defense. At West Ham, two weeks ago, Kenny Dalglish opted to field five defenders in hope of utilizing the flanks of a 5-3-2 converted to a 3-5-2 formation. It failed miserably because of West Ham’s intent and Liverpool’s clear lack of motivation for the game. It could have worked had the players wanted a win as badly as against United.

Kenny Dalglish will know that Sunderland will be a whole different ball game as opposed to an under-performing United at home. He will need to lift his team for an away trip they don’t particularly enjoy. The Black Cats are a tough team to beat in their own backyard, having lost only three games at home this season; two of them being recent defeats to Chelsea and Spurs.

Add to this the disastrous away form of Liverpool football club under Dalglish’s management. Under King Kenny, Liverpool have registered only two away wins in seven attempts till date.

Dalglish is yet to cement his spot as manager

In fact, Sunderland could do to Liverpool exactly what Liverpool did to Man United. They could raise their game, in order to end their poor run of one point in the last five games. The home crowd will be buzzing and Liverpool have a habit of struggling under the ‘twelfth-man’ pressure.

Another factor that will play a major role will be former Manchester United player, and now Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce. He is not going to leave any stone unturned in his bid to down Liverpool at the Stadium of Light; especially at a time when the club is being managed by a Liverpool legend. The pairing of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll forms the basis of Liverpool’s new hopes. Young, energetic and exuberant in their play, the two strikers have come as a breath of fresh air. More importantly, though, the two lend diversity to the attack.

Since Peter Crouch, and Emile Heskey before that, Liverpool have lacked a target man and a major threat in the air. Andy Carroll is not only better with his feet than the two strikers mentioned, but is also almost as tall as Crouch, more of an aerial threat and is certainly a ‘beast’ in terms of his build.

Luis Suarez, on the other hand, is quick as lightning with his feet, a fact the United defense will attest to, and has already put the 2010-11 Torres to shame in terms of contribution and involvement in matches. Gerrard’s absence is a major setback for Liverpool ahead of next Saturday’s trip. However, it is also a chance to add a dimension of reality to version 94 of the claim – ‘Liverpool are no longer dependent on Steven Gerrard’.

There seems to be a delightful freshness around Liverpool Football Club, these days, though the results have only gradually picked up. Perhaps, this is due to the uncertainty of what to expect when the new signings click into gear. Yes, Dalglish has knocked over Chelsea at the Bridge and United at Anfield, but Sunderland is a crucial test for Kenny Dalglish and a golden chance to earn a point of distinction in comparison to previous managers.

Europa league will never be a priority for Liverpool supporters. The league is supposed to be our bread and butter and stability and consistency is all that the fans have been praying for.

The travelling supporters will hope to witness a solid away performance in the league at the Stadium of Light, instead of returning empty-handed, shaking their heads and muttering the same lines they do every season.

‘Same old, same old’.