Kenny Dalglish set his sights on leading Liverpool back to the summit of English football after his side gave a tantalising glimpse of their potential with a 5-2 demolition of Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Arch rivals Manchester United will pass Liverpool’s record of 18 league titles if they get the point required to clinch this year’s Premier League crown, but Dalglish believes his team are improving fast enough to mount a serious challenge to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men next season.
Dalglish has breathed new life into the club since he replaced Roy Hodgson as Liverpool manager in January and it is not impossible that the Reds could even snatch fourth place in the Premier League.
Even if they miss out on a Champions League spot this time, Monday’s five-star display in west London showed that Liverpool are emerging as a force to be reckoned with in Dalglish’s second spell as manager.
While Dalglish wouldn’t go so far as paraphrasing Ferguson’s famous comment, made at the start of his reign at United in the 1980s, that he wanted to “knock Liverpool off their perch”, the Scot knows his team have enough about them to make United sweat in future.
“Anyone that wins the title is the best team and Manchester United aren’t any different because they have the most points,” Dalglish said.
“Just because they are our rivals and competitors doesn’t mean we won’t respect them and their achievements. They set the standards that we have to get to and we will try to get there.”
Uruguay forward Luis Suarez has been the key to Liverpool’s resurgence and the former Ajax star gave another eye-catching display capped by the fifth goal against Fulham.
But it is the form of Maxi Rodriguez and raw youngsters like Jay Spearing that is the real measure of Dalglish’s impact.
Rodriguez has been a bit-part player for much of his time at Anfield but Dalglish has give the Argentine midfielder new levels of confidence and he destroyed Fulham with a hat-trick — his second in three matches — including the Premier League’s fastest goal of the season after 31 seconds.
“It was a fantastic result and a fantastic performance. We totally deserved it,” Dalglish said.
“Fulham have got a great home record so to score five goals is beyond our wildest expectations. Suarez was fantastic, he was running as hard at the end as he was at the beginning and caused them all sort of problems.”
‘We had a great run’
Liverpool are now two points clear of sixth placed Tottenham and firmly on course to secure at least a Europa League place, with fourth placed Manchester City still catchable if they slip up against Spurs on Tuesday.
“We will just wait and see about Europe,” Dalglish said. “You can only get benefit from other results if you do the business yourself. If we get a bonus from someone else so be it.
“No one could have anticipated the run the boys are on when I took over. Even if we don’t finish fifth we have had a great run.”
Dalglish is currently serving as interim manager but Liverpool owner John W Henry will surely rubber-stamp his appointment on a permanent basis shortly.
Asked about contract negotiations, Dalglish said: “It’s no different from the last time. When we’ve got something to tell you, we will tell you. At the moment there is nothing.”
Fulham boss Mark Hughes was shell-shocked by the way his side collapsed, with Liverpool scoring three times in the first 16 minutes.
“The game was gone from us with the first 16 minutes. 3-0 down at home wasn’t something I would have expected given how we have played in recent months but credit to Liverpool, they were excellent,” Hughes said.
“We never really dealt with Suarez and Rodriguez. If you give a good player like Suarez time and space he will hurt you and that’s what he did.” — AFP