Liverpool parts with Dalglish: The unlikely, 17-month affirmation of King Kenny

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Ultimately, Kenny Dalglish’s image will be untarnished by his Liverpool return, though there were enough high profile setbacks to justify a minor addendum to his legacy. The team owners explicitly targeted Champions League, a goal few though unreasonable. Some even picked Liverpool to compete for the title, but they didn’t. They never even pushed for top four. Along the way, they more-readily wrapping themselves in Suárez-driven race controversy than inspiring soccer. Perhaps if some of the players had stepped up, the potholes wouldn’t have defined a trophy-winning season; then again, you can’t separate the manager from that.

Who in Liverpool’s squad exceeded expectations this season? It’s a great way to measure managerial quality, yet man-for-man, when you look at this team and ask “Did Kenny get the most out of him”, the answer is always no. Some of the players most-readily associated with Dalglish’s approval (Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam) proved to be the biggest disappointments.

Tactically reactive, unable to generate goals, Liverpool never looked the part of a team that spent over $190 million last summer. Perhaps most embarrassingly, the new-look Reds – looking all Moneyball-y amid their new management team and the financial backing that came with it – finished behind cross-towners Everton, a team who’s losing talent (Mikel Arteta) as fast as they can acquire it (Nikica Jelavic). The rivalry on Mersey aside, the Toffees are a benchmark: If you’re an affluent club and can’t eclipse them, you’re doing something wrong.

And Liverpool is clearly doing something wrong, though not all of that can conclusively be laid at Dalglish’s. We don’t exactly know what the dynamic between him and Damien Camolli (now-departed) was. Still, we know Dalglish had final approval on all moves, and as the new faces started to arrival at Anfield this summer, the Reds started to look like a team that was being built in some mid-90s, early 2000s image was assumed Dalglish retained from his last spell in the Premier League.

Which is exactly how they played. In today’s league, there’s an urgency around the top of the table that’s difficult to describe in last century’s terms. Liverpool never embraced that urgency. They would be their plucky best against the league’s top sides while playing miserably against the rest. It was a Europe-first attitude from a club that wasn’t in Europe and has lost the right to think like Real and Milan.

For the third straight year, Liverpool will be out of Champions League, having fallen to their worst finish since 1993-94. However, they are still one of the world’s most prestigious clubs, playing into a question’s easy to answer: Is Dalglish the best manager Liverpool could get? Certainly not.

But the whole discussion is a bit unfair to Dalglish. I feel it in my chest – the dull, lingering pain of guilt I get with I disrespect somebody. The man was asked by ownership to come in and right the ship after Roy Hodgson’s flat start. He clearly energized the squad in the winter of 2011.

But LFC should have left it at that. They should have taken the team’s minor resurgence and used it as reason to draw a name coach. Carlo Ancelotti? Like a glove. Still, those kind of choices are often too much to make when talking about a club icon.

John W. Henry’s thoughts reflect this.

“Kenny will always be more than a championship winning manager, more than a championship winning star player. He is in many ways the heart and soul of the club. He personifies everything that is good about Liverpool Football Club. He has always put the club and its supporters first. Kenny will always be a part of the family at Anfield.”

Dalglish has responded with similar magnanimity.

“While I am obviously disappointed to be leaving the football club, I can say that the matter has been handled by the owners and all concerned in an honorable, respectful and dignified way and reflects on the quality of the people involved and their continued desire to move the football club forward in the same way as when they arrived here.”

As Liverpool and Dalglish’s statements reflect, King Kenny has not be dethroned. If anything, he can sit more firmly on it. In the year before his appointment, there are been rumors of his angling to be the man that replaced Rafa Benítez prior to Hodgson’s appointment. These murmurs have long faded, and as Warner affirmed today, Dalglish was more servant than aspirant. If the Kop needed one thing in the wake of Hicks-Gillett, it was figurehead they knew would match their devotion to LFC.

Nobody’s going to begrudge him this year’s disappointing finish. His presence (along with delivering the League Cup) gave supporters a reason to love a club that, months before his arrival, as a signature away from bankruptcy. Is one season’s disappointment worth it, if you’re also putting one of club’s most depressing eras in the distant past? Definitely. Dalglish has provide hope, albiet unrequited.

Who’s next for Liverpool? Well, that’s kind of the point: Almost anybody. Papers in England have copied-and-pasted the Aston Villa candidate list into their Liverpool columns, linking Roberto Martínez, Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers. That seems more London’s wishlist than Anfield’s.

For John W. Henry and Tom Warner, this is their first major coaching search, one that will be approached with the same philosophies that underscore all of their sports ventures. Could that lead to a list of Fleet Street favorites? Perhaps. Could that also lead to Marcelo Bielsa, Luciano Spalletti, Jurgen Klopp and Frank de Boer? We’re all just guessing.

Conte admits nerves through narrow win over Southampton

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Antonio Conte had bad vibes about Chelsea’s visit from wounded Southampton, and his Blues didn’t make the morning at Stamford Bridge any easier on the Italian boss.

Marcos Alonso scored a free kick goal but the Blues could not find a second in a 1-0 win that had Conte proverbially watching through his fingers.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 1-0 Saints ]

Chelsea moves into a tie for second with Manchester United before the Red Devils play Sunday, and Conte is exhaling after the victory. From the BBC:

“When you do not score the second goal, you have to suffer. You are afraid at every corner and free-kick and the opponent has the chance to draw. We dominated the game, shooting 24 times, hitting the post and we needed to score the second goal to be relaxed.

The Blues outshot Saints 24-6, and Southampton only managed to put two shots on target. Chelsea hosts Bournemouth in a League Cup quarterfinal on Wednesday before returning to Premier League action at Everton on Saturday.

Stoke City 0-3 West Ham United: Arnautovic embraces villain role

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  • Controversial PK helps WHU in front
  • Arnautovic booed all day, makes it 2-0
  • Irons out of the drop zone

Marko Arnautovic got the last laugh on a subplot heavy day at the bet365 Stadium, scoring a goal and constantly threatening his old club as West Ham United beat Stoke City 3-0 on Saturday.

The match was delayed an hour thanks to a power outage, but Arnautovic had the electricity ramped up early and he certainly celebrated his second half goal against his former club with vigor.

Mark Noble converted a controversial Manuel Lanzini-won penalty to make it 1-0, and Diafra Sakho completed the scoring off a Lanzini feed in the win.

David Moyes and West Ham move out of the drop zone with the win, moving 15th with 17 points. Stoke is now just a point ahead of 18th place Newcastle United.

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The home crowd was all over Marko Arnautovic, who left Stoke for West Ham this summer, and the early tackles for both teams showed an ornery nature.

Yet it was Stoke who saw an effort bound off the post in the 17th minute, though the optimism was short-lived as a counter attack saw Manuel Lanzini dive into Erik Pieters to earn a penalty.

Noble converted the penalty, and West Ham was up 1-0 in the 19th.

Butland got the crowd in full throat when he saved villain Arnautovic’s breakaway shot. Then Lanzini knuckled a shot at Butland which the English goalkeeper turned away.

Arnautovic had another chance to burn his old team, but Kevin Wimmer got a slight deflection on his countryman’s 59th minute attempt.

He’d continue to do everything but score, cranking a left-footed shot off the crossbar in the 68th.

Charlie Adams crossed for Ryan Shawcross in the 72nd minute, but the big man couldn’t head the ball down on goal.

Arnautovic finally got his goal on a cute 1-2 with Lanzini, and he certainly celebrated against his old side.

It should’ve been 3-0 thanks to deft work from Chicharito, but Diafra Sakho needed too many touches before back heeling a shot wide of the far post.

Sakho would get his goal off a neat feed from

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Brighton 0-0 Burnley: Seagulls continue barren spell

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  • Seagulls without a win in seven
  • Murray misses first half PK
  • Wood denied twice in second half

Brighton and Hove Albion drew 0-0 with Burnley at the Amex Stadium on Saturday with Chris Hughton‘s side now without a win in seven games and they’ve scored just once in their last six Premier League encounters.

Glenn Murray blazed over a first half penalty kick to add to Brighton’s woes, while Burnley were denied by Mat Ryan in the second half as the spoils were shared.

With the point Burnley move on to 32 points, while Brighton have 18 and are just three points above the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton did most of the pressing early on with Murray causing plenty of problems and Burnley could hardly get out of their own half.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson had a shot which flew just wide but that was as close as the Clarets came.

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Before the break Anthony Knockaert‘s shot hit the post and then Lewis Dunk‘s header was cleared off the line by Phil Bardsley, before a massive moment arrived.

James Tarkowski bundled over Murray in the box but the Brighton forward blasted the penalty kick over the bar as the Seagulls wasted a glorious opportunity.

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Chris Wood forced Mat Ryan into a save early in the second half but the chances kept coming for Brighton.

Knockaert squirmed an effort just wide of the far post for Brighton and then Wood had the ball in the net after Scott Arfield was twice denied but he was in an offside position.

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Ryan denied Wood again late on as he closed down the onrushing Burnley forward brilliantly, and both teams had to settle for a point on the South Coast.

Watford 1-4 Huddersfield Town: Mooy at the double for Town

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  • Town build 3-0 lead
  • Mooy scores, converts PK
  • Deeney, Hogg sent off

Aaron Mooy scored a pair of goals and both teams finished with 10 men as Huddersfield Town battered Watford 4-1 on Saturday at Vicarage Road.

Elias Kachunga and Laurent Depoitre also scored for Town, which moves 11th with 21 points.

Abdoulaye Doucoure scored Watford’s goal, as the Hornets stay ninth with just one more point than Town.

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Kachunga caused some early problems for Watford, winning a fifth minute corner kick.

That corner bred another one, and Kachunga deposited it behind Heurelho Gomes after a series of sloppy, cagey touches from both sides.

Kachunga then needed to be removed from the match after just 16 minutes following a left knee injury.

Richarlison had a chance to level the score in the 21st minute, but the tricky shot arrowed over the frame.

Mooy made it 2-0 when Watford missed a pair of chances to deal with a cross and the Australian was in the catbird seat to tap home.

And it went from bad to worse for the Hornets when Troy Deeney picked up a straight red card for a two-footed scissor tackle in the 33rd minute.

Depoitre scored shortly after halftime to pile woe on Marco Silva‘s men. It just wasn’t their day, though a second yellow card to Jonathan Hogg did put both teams on 10 men with 28 minutes to play.

Doucoure put a little drama in the match with a terrific goal from 20 yards, besting Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl.

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