Small clubs still big trouble for Liverpool
Published 21:30 21/10/11 By David Maddock
Winning the Premier League requires a level of quality and strength in depth probably unrivalled anywhere else on planet football.
But it also needs a ruthless mental strength - the ability to deal with the challenges presented weekly by the lesser clubs in the division, sides see a visit to the home of the potential champions as their cup final.
If you want to lift the big trophy, the simple truth is you must win your home games against teams you are expected to beat - the so-called smaller clubs.
Clubs such as Norwich, who are still finding their feet in the top flight after back-to-back promotions through League One and the Championship.
A home date with the likes of the Canaries is supposed to be a guaranteed three points - as even an under-motivated, under-performing Manchester United proved at the start of the month.
For Liverpool though, such a fixture is hardly routine.
In fact, in recent years, games like Norwich's Saturday tea-time visit to Anfield have become a white-knuckle ride into the unknown for Reds fans.
It is not so much their Achilles heel, but an amputated leg in their attempts to become serious title contenders.
Comparing the records of United and Liverpool in recent seasons makes fascinating reading.
In 2011, United set a Premier League record of 19 consecutive home wins. They also dropped just TWO points at Old Trafford in the entire campaign en route to the title.
Liverpool, on the other hand, saw the likes of Sunderland, Blackpool, Wolves and Wigan get resuts at Anfield.
And it was exactly the same the previous campaign, when the Reds were embarrassed at home by Birmingham, Fulham, Aston Villa and a then still-pretty-unfancied Manchester City.
Anfield used to be a fortress - a ground where opponents feared to tread.
In 1972, the Reds set an all-time record with 22 wins at home to cement a legend for dealing ruthlessly with all comers.
Yet their more recent inability to win routine matches on their own turf was perhaps no more starkly illustrated than in 2008-09, when Liverpool became genuine challengers for the first time in almost a decade.
That season, under Rafa Benitez, they beat United and Chelsea home and away, to suggest they had the quality to rival the very best clubs.
But, in the end, they fell agonisingly four points short of becoming champions... because of their failure to kill off sides at home.
That season, United eventually triumphed, thanks largely to their home record. They lost to Liverpool, but the only other points they dropped at Old Trafford came in draws with Newcastle in their opening game and with Arsenal in their final home match, when a point was all they needed to lift the title.
Liverpool? They, incredibly, drew at home with Stoke, Fulham, West Ham, Hull, Everton and Man City.
Converting just two of those draws into wins could have won them the title, on a ground where once the Reds had been invincible.
Even this season, it seems to be a similar story.
Liverpool drew their opening home fixture against Sunderland, and almost blew another Anfield game against Wolves, after leading comfortably.
It is almost as though there is a mental block, because their dropped points against the lesser sides in recent years have come under three different managers - three very different managers.
So when Norwich arrive, boss Kenny Dalglish knows his side have to overcome one of their biggest weaknesses.
Last season, when he took over from Roy Hodgson, the Anfield legend oversaw a dramatic home 3-1 win over United, only to see the same team draw against Wigan in their very next game in front of the Kop.
This time, they come off the back of another massively impressive performance against United - and the manager knows this is where the hard work starts.
“I don’t know if it’s ruthlessness that’s missing, because we have played well enough in a lot of games to have won more points than we have got,” Dalglish admitted.
“But it’s up to us to put it to bed if we get the chance. Everybody really enjoys getting themselves in that position, we just have to see it over the line.
“It helps when you can put the game out of sight, but you also need luck, and I don’t think we’ve had too much at times, but the number of points is an area of improvement.
“We must be prepared mentally and physically to get a result. We will give Norwich the respect and the preparation will be every bit as professional as what it was against Manchester United or Everton.”
Dalglish knows all about sides arriving at Anfield and parking the bus.
In his days as a title-winning player and manager, he had to overcome such tactics on a weekly basis.
He believes it is all about the right attitude, and about finding ways to win, even when opponents close games down completely.
United have made an art of it in recent years, while Liverpool have lost their way, and the Reds boss knows it is a problem he will have to repair if his side are to challenge for the title once more.
“I don’t think anyone has ever come here not thinking it was a cup final. It’s nothing new for us, and is something we have to deal with,” he explained.
“I don’t know what other people expect, but we expect an equally difficult game from Norwich as Manchester United gave us.
“We will never underestimate any opposition, whether it’s Norwich or anyone else.
“We have been pleased with a lot of the things we have done so far this season but we need to keep pushing forward.
"We’re no different to anyone else - we would like to have more points for the efforts we have put in this season but we have to get on with it.”