December 31, 1982
Liverpool’s excellent start to the present season is confirmed by the fact that they have picked up eight more points at the half-way stage in their bid to retain the League title than they did last time around.
When 1982 dawned the Reds stood in 12th place with 24 points and only six victories to their credit. But four straight wins gave them 36 points from 21 matches. Whether or not hey will be able to match their spectacular run-in, which saw them take 60 points from 25 games, only two of them lost, remains to be seen.
However, they have certainly played well enough to force at least one firm of bookmakers to delete them from their books, and to suggest it will take a remarkable performance by any of their rivals to stop them winning the League title for a record 14th time.
The side that has done duty so far this season has been substantially the same one that manager Bob Paisley reshaped 12 months ago. Striker David Hodgson has made a handful of appearances, and looked a useful man for the future, but otherwise the same players who swept them to the championship have been responsible for the club’s continued success.
Indeed, the formula has been even closer to last season’s than most people expected, for Kenny Dalglish has remained an outstanding player, Ian Rush has been in fine scoring form, while Mark Lawrenson has continued to operate mainly in midfield.
A fresh appetite
When the players reported back for duty in late July it was generally expected that Dalglish, then 31, would gradually start to operate in a deeper role. His finishing lacked the killer touch and he seemed less capable of turning opponents, well though he continued to distribute the ball.
Early matches seemed to emphasise this, particularly as Hodgson and Rush quickly developed a promising understanding in front of the maestro. Then the picture began to alter. Dalglish hit his first goals of the seasons against Brighton, and immediately became a man transformed. Almost overnight he appeared to gain a yard of speed and develop a fresh appetite for the game which has made him almost unstoppable.
From that moment Liverpool have never looked back, and Dalglish has gone from strength to strength, winning back his international place and scoring two great goals against Belgium. Defensively, Liverpool seemed destined to start the season with an interesting new formation based on the use of three international centre backs playing alongside each other, with the spare man given a clear brief to attack at every opportunity.
The system worked perfectly in the Charity Shield, when Rush’s winning goal came from a goal created by Phil Thompson, but then injuries to one key player after another intervened to destroy the system’s development.
Eventually all three men were passed fit gain, but by then Mr. Paisley’s thinking had altered slightly. Craig Johnston, who played a useful part during last season’s title run-in, seemed destined to be the permanent substitute in the early autumn, and became so frustrated that he even put in a transfer request.
Then Ronnie Whelan was injured, and back came Johnston in his favourite position, the left side of midfield, to add his own unpredictable brand of opportunism. If all has appeared to go remarkably smoothly, there have been plenty of problems to worry about behind the scenes, notably the club’s inability to maintain the tremendous strength in depth that has been such a feature of Anfield life in recent years.
Saturday League gates were held up well, and are scarcely below last season’s 35,000 average, but with costs soaring even Liverpool have been unable to keep first class cover for every position.
The departure of men like David Johnson, Kevin Sheedy, Terry McDermott and Howard Gayle has certainly cut their weekly wage bill, but it has meant the reserves looking unusually vulnerable – and it could well lead to real difficulties in the event of a crop of injuries.
Liverpool also know they face a possible period of uncertainty at the end of the season when Bob Paisley will retire and hand over the reins of management to Joe Fagan. With money in short supply everywhere, and the League itself in a state of confusion, the new manager will find in anything but easy to maintain the phenomenally high standards set over the past two decades.
Fortunately, all that lies ahead, and all at Anfield are concentrating for the annual challenge for four major trophies. A kind draw in both the Milk and European Cups has given them plenty to aim for in the new year, but it would be surprising if there were not a special interest in the FA Cup.
The FA Cup remains the most glamorous of all competitions, probably because of its sudden death nature, and Liverpool have only ever won it twice – the most recent occasion being in 1974, just before Bill Shankly’s retirement.
It would be a fitting finale for soccer’s most successful manager of Bob Paisley could crown his last season with the one trophy he has never won, either as a player or a manager.
(Source: Liverpool Echo: December 31, 1982; via http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited