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Jan 16, 2011

Deja-vu for Dalglish on Anfield return

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Certainly at Anfield, anyway. When first appointed Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish's initial tasks included knocking Everton off their perch, to adapt Sir Alex Ferguson's infamous phrase. They, not Liverpool, were league champions in 1985. Twenty-six years later, the status of the city's two teams have been downgraded, but Everton are the foremost side once again, albeit on goal difference. Dalglish's immediate impact was to prevent a first double since the halcyon days of Howard Kendall's team.

Having left the Liverpool job after a frenetic derby marked by dodgy defending, Dalglish's Anfield return continued in similar style: 4-4 in 1991, 2-2 in 2011, there has been an eventful evenness to the two games.

The central character is the constant, although approaching his 60th birthday, Dalglish still celebrates goals the same way, with both arms raised, palms out and a big grin. Despite a hard-earned reputation for dourness, he has a smile that illuminates his face. Twenty years on, however, and apart from his boyish enthusiasm for returning to the job he wished he had never resigned from, there are more reasons to frown.

His is an energised, urgent side who stand in stark contrast to Roy Hodgson's anaemic collective, but they retain a damaging habit of losing leads. The changing face of Dalglish's Liverpool intrigues; local lads are promoted, misguided signings downgraded, tactics tweaked. But the confines remain the same: too many of the nine men who separate the two World Cup winners, Fernando Torres and Jose Reina, are inadequate.

And whoever the manager, Torres assumes an importance that is exacerbated by the failings of others. Whether sulking or scintillating, he can set the tone. The indications are that Dalglish can inspire Torres, that one great striker can stir another from a sullen malaise.

Given Torres' current frame of mind, fielding him alone in attack appears an astute move. It allows him to wage war with anyone he encounters and the Spanish interpretation of blitzkrieg came close to succeeding. A sparkling solo run, including the not inconsiderable feat of leaving Sylvain Distin for dead, culminated in a whipped shot that struck the post.

A second feather in Dalglish's cap was Raul Meireles' first Liverpool goal. Misused on the right by Hodgson, Dalglish has given him a central berth. The Portuguese's talent is apparent, but there are times when he has threatened to become the second Alberto Aquilani, a misunderstood misfit in the No. 4 shirt. Lethal from long-range at times for his country, he had attempted more shots without scoring than any other Premier League player. Until now.

Glen Johnson's deep cross was met by Dirk Kuyt, rising at the back post. Both his downward header and the subsequent shot were parried by Tim Howard, but the American was unable to halt Meireles' rasping effort.

Dominant until half-time, Liverpool trailed after two goals in seven minutes, not unconnected to the enforced introduction of Anfield's very own Greek tragedy, Sotirios Kyrgiakos. Tormented by Torres, Distin exacted a measure of revenge by equalising. He escaped from Martin Skrtel to meet Mikel Arteta's corner with a sharp header.

Then, after Victor Anichebe won a flick-on, Leon Osman darted past the rather static Kyrgiakos to set up Jermaine Beckford. His shot was curled around Jose Reina.

Showing a spirit that appears new found, Liverpool levelled. They owed much to the sharpness of Maxi Rodriguez, who nipped in ahead of Howard when Skrtel mis-kicked. The otherwise outstanding goalkeeper brought the Argentine down and Kuyt sent him the wrong way from the spot.

Honours remained even but Dalglish felt Liverpool were unlucky. "We had more shots and clear-cut chances," he said. "Possibly you could say we deserved a bit more but at this moment in time, there's not a great deal of good fortune."

David Moyes' even assessment was: "I'm disappointed we didn't take all three points after the second half but delighted we only came in one down when Liverpool were the better team."

They are a different team. This was the first derby since 2002 that they entered without the men deemed their heart and soul. Minus Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, Dalglish ensured the natives had two representatives. A couple of surging runs furthered Martin Kelly's burgeoning reputation but Jay Spearing was the surprise inclusion. Compared to Gerrard, whose position he occupied, Spearing is the second-rate Scouser. But one man with an affinity to the club selected another.

"Steven might not get [back] in, you never know," said Dalglish mischievously. "But I don't care where they're born. If Jay had been born in Scotland, he'd still have played."

The Scots often outnumbered the Scousers in the Liverpool side in Dalglish's heyday. Then Merseyside provided the top two teams in the country. Now they are officially the sixth- and seventh-best sides in the North West. Either side of the Walton Road it is advantage Everton, but the backdrop is very different.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Tim Howard - Conceded the penalty, but Everton could have been out of sight at the interval but for the acrobatics of the American. Torres, Meireles and Kuyt could all have had further goals but for him.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: "We can't be disappointed with any one of our players," said Dalglish. It is part of an attempt to imbue his side with confidence. An analysis of the defending for Everton's two goals might reveal reasons to complain; the ferries that cross the Mersey have a smaller turning circle than Kyrgiakos and the illness that forced Daniel Agger off could have been crucial. But, significantly, Dalglish hinted that Johnson might have to carry on playing left-back because of Kelly's form in his preferred position.

EVERTON VERDICT: Minus Tim Cahill, Louis Saha, Steven Pienaar and Phil Jagielka for a variety of reasons, Moyes' squad looks stretched again. "We were missing three or four really good players," he said. "I know Liverpool missed two but it's different for a club like Everton; we've got a much smaller squad." It is unlikely to get bigger in January.

PIENAAR LATEST: The South African was omitted after telling Moyes he is not in the right state of mind. Everton have accepted an offer from Chelsea but have rejected a lower bid from Tottenham for the midfielder.

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