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- Aug 1, 2010
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Kenny Dalglish enjoyed success with a basic 4-4-2 formation at Liverpool and Blackburn, but are his methods outdated now?
v Everton 20 May 1989, FA Cup final
At Liverpool, Dalglish was the last in the great dynasty of the boot-room, his job to an extent merely to keep the flame alive. Tactically Kenny Dalglish's system essentially followed the same model established by Bob Paisley: a basic 4-4-2 with a genuine winger (John Barnes) on one flank and a more tucked-in midfielder on the other (Ray Houghton), and a deep-lying forward (Peter Beardsley in the role Dalglish himself once occupied) off a hard-working front man who worked across the line. Both full-backs were encouraged to push on, and at least one of the centre-backs had licence to stride out with the ball into midfield. In 1987-88, when it produced 87 goals in 40 league games, and to a lesser extent 1988-89, their football was majestically fluent, but by the time Dalglish left in 1991, a caginess had started to set in. His last full season yielded 77 goals, but a starting eleven away to Arsenal that featured six players who'd spent most of their career in defence, plus Ronnie Whelan, was indicative of a growing mood of caution
v Arsenal 8 March 1995, Premier League
There was a moment during the 1990 World Cup when England's manager Bobby Robson was asked if he thought 4-4-2 was done with. Snappishly, he pointed out that Liverpool played 4-4-2 and asked whether anybody thought they were finished. They did not, of course, but Liverpool have not won a league title since. Off-field matters – the emotional aftermath of Hillsborough, the appointment of Graeme Souness to replace a shattered Dalglish and a failure to adapt to the new commercial possibilities of the Premier League – were of course a greater cause of the decline than tactical conservatism, but the fact remains that no side has won in the last 20 years with that old-style 4-4-2. In 1994-95, Dalglish had Blackburn Rovers playing a far more direct style than his Liverpool had, with two mobile centre-forwards who were both good in the air, two advanced wide midfielders and a protective screen of two holding players in front of the back four.
v Charlton Athletic 15 August 1998, Premier League
Sacking a manager two games into a new season is, of course, absurd, but there was a basis to the allegations of over-defensiveness. After the cavalier football of the Kevin Keegan era, Newcastle managed a paltry 35 goals in 38 games in 1997-98. A negative approach in the FA Cup final, with Alessandro Pistone deployed on the left side of midfield, was perhaps justifiable, but when Newcastle started the following season with Nikos Dabizas and Dietmar Hamann in the middle of midfield against Charlton Athletic the outrage was understandable. It was not even that they were there to service a pair of attacking wide-men; rather the use of Rob Lee and Gary Speed left Newcastle desperately short of width. That had Alan Shearer isolated, with Andreas Andersson ineffective in an unfamiliar playmaking role behind him. That Charlton had a man sent off after 25 minutes and Newcastle still couldn't break them down only added to Newcastle's frustration.
v Aberdeen 19 March 2000, Scottish League Cup final
A trophy is a trophy, and finals of course carry additional pressures, but Dalglish's final piece of silverware carried an unmistakable sense of anti-climax. Under John Barnes, Celtic had beaten Aberdeen 5-0, 7-0 and 6-0 that season; to beat them only 2-0 was emblematic of Dalglish's caution. In the 7-0 game, Barnes had fielded a midfield of Craig Burley, Lubomir Moravcik, Eyal Berkovic and Paul Lambert, a quartet of passers and creators. Dalglish returned to something approaching the old Liverpool shape, with Vidar Riseth, often a full-back, deployed on the right of midfield, Morten Wieghorst and Stilian Petrov holding in the middle, and the playmaker Moravcik exiled to the left, from where he swooped in to link with Tommy Johnson to create for Mark Viduka. In personnel and style, though, this was a pale imitation of his Liverpool.
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