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5 key matches for Liverpool

Liverpool
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What can Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp learn from Kenny Dalglish?

Kenny Dalglish is a legend at Anfield.

It was 25 years ago, on Feb. 22, 1991, that Kenny Dalglish stunned football by stepping down as Liverpool manager. He left his side -- then defending champions -- top of the table, but they have not won the league title since.

Dalglish's successors in the Anfield hotseat (plus the Scot himself on his return in 2011-12) have had to settle for cup success or, in Brendan Rodgers's case, nothing at all. Jurgen Klopp is the seventh new boss to try to return the Reds to their former glories, so after a quarter of a century of ups and downs we ask what he can learn from Dalglish's tenure.

1. A goalscorer (or even two) changes everything

Dalglish's go-to man was Ian Rush, both as a teammate -- with whom he had a near-telepathic understanding -- and as manager. After joining Liverpool in 1980, the Welsh striker netted 346 times in 660 games, including 47 goals in 1983-84 to win the European golden boot.

More startling is that for Rush's first seven years at Liverpool, they did not lose a match in which he scored. The sequence lasted 145 games until defeat by Arsenal in the 1987 League Cup final, a month before Rush left for Juventus.

His replacement, John Aldridge, had already arrived and was equally reliable, scoring 63 goals in 104 games before leaving once Rush had returned and reclaimed his place. In an era when the word "rotation" was not yet in use, there was not room for both -- a luxury the current Liverpool would love after two lean seasons in this department (they netted only 10 more goals than bottom-club QPR in 2014-15.)

2. A strong spine gives you a platform to build on

In Dalglish's first season in charge in 1985-86 he won a league and FA Cup double -- at that time only the third in England in the 20th century (there have been six more in 19 years since.) In his third and fourth seasons he was denied further doubles only by a shock 1-0 loss to Wimbledon in the 1988 Cup final and the injury-time Michael Thomas goal in a 2-0 win for Arsenal that snatched away the 1989 league title with the Gunners needing to win by two clear goals.

This consistency -- a quality Klopp is seeking -- was built around Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson (later Gary Gillespie) at centre-back, Jan Molby and Steve McMahon in the centre of midfield, and Ronnie Whelan and Craig Johnston (later John Barnes and Ray Houghton) on the left and right. All understood "The Liverpool Way" and all became serial winners.

3. Certainty between the sticks builds confidence

Dalglish's teams had an often spectacular shot-stopper who was prone to clangers -- sound familiar? Klopp's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, though, is a different character to the more abrasive Bruce Grobbelaar, who was erratic but survived numerous crises to play 626 matches and star in the 1984 European Cup final penalty shootout victory over Roma.

Taking over the gloves from the legendary Ray Clemence, the then little-known Zimbabwe international was a constant presence for Liverpool in the 1980s and early 90s, collecting 13 winner's medals. After his 1981 debut he did not miss a game for five years -- 310 consecutive fixtures later. Something Mignolet can only aspire to.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admits Daniel Sturridge still needs a few matches to find his rhythm after returning from injury.

4. Liverpool's No. 7 shirt is special

With due respect to James Milner, who currently wears it, he does not resemble the No. 7s who have inspired the Reds' greatest triumphs. Dalglish is the most famed of all, but when its previous incumbent Kevin Keegan left for Hamburg in 1977, it was feared he was irreplaceable. Dalglish proved that not to be the case: winning 22 trophies as a player and a further six as manager. Peter Beardsley then showed that he was an ideal fit for four seasons, before the likes of Nigel Clough and Robbie Keane tried it for size and could not fill it.

Not until Luis Suarez arrived at Anfield in 2011 -- during Dalglish's second spell as boss -- was there a successor of comparable quality, with 82 goals in 133 appearances and almost a first championship since the Scot's 1991 exit. A gaping void has followed.

5. Much has changed, but identity is still vital

Learning the lessons of history is all very well, but the football landscape has shifted considerably since 1991. The game is quicker; there is far more money in England (attracting global stars who in Dalglish's day went to Italy); and a nucleus of Scottish, Irish and Welsh players is unlikely to dominate nowaday.

A characteristic of which Klopp would approve, however, is that, for all their star individuals, the teams Dalglish played in and managed were greater than the sum of their parts. They had a style, an identity, and no one was irreplaceable -- besides, perhaps, King Kenny.

Tom is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. Follow him @writertombell.

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