Whirlwind Week

What a difference a week makes! After a decent display against Real Sociedad at the weekend, Mallorca came away with their second victory of the season – though it was a little fortuitous, given the amount of times the away side were denied not by Mallorca’s defence, but by the woodwork – and three valuable points looked to have given Laudrup’s position some breathing room.

It was just the result everyone wanted to see – and that the club desperately needed. The importance of a positive performance and result cannot be understated on the back of three successive defeats (and abysmal performances), which undermined any of the confidence Los Bermellones brought into the new season.

Before the match, Emilio Nsue claimed that the team felt they had to win to save Laudrup’s job; to protect the man with whom they shared a strong camaraderie. Indeed, on the basis of those comments and their reaction on the pitch, it is undeniable that the players have a lot of respect and admiration for the Dane.

After the match, they would have felt that their mission was accomplished. Laudrup was out of the woods – for now.

So they wouldn’t have been expecting what came next. Unable to progress any further in what he perceived to be hostile, frustrating working conditions, Laudrup began a process of resignation with the club, working out a compensatory deal that would suit both his and the club’s needs.

Few would argue against the fact that Laudrup’s dismissal would have come much sooner had the club been in a more luxurious financial position; Serra Ferrer and the board’s agenda has long appeared in favour of removing him from the situation. They, of course, will have wanted him to walk away from the job in order to save themselves some money.

In the end, the reality is in the middle of those two extremes. Laudrup has walked – but the deal arranged means that he will be compensated for his work, albeit less than if he had been outright sacked. Does this mean that everyone’s a winner?

Given the history between the two parties, this seemed to be the inevitable conclusion, one way or another. But the way it has unfolded, I have a lot of sympathy for Laudrup, and one wonders whether it was a case of Serra Ferrer working from behind the scenes to undermine his position over a long period of time – not by interfering with his day-to-day tasks, but by making small decisions that would increase Laudrup’s frustration in the hopes of making him call it a day. Certainly, the dismissal of Laudrup’s assistant Erik Larsen seems to fit into this pattern – it could be that this was a specifically manipulated act, with Serra Ferrer knowing it would push Laudrup over the edge.

So was Larsen’s dismissal an unexpected catalyst that forced Laudrup to show his hand, or was it just the last in a long-running saga of actions intended to force Laudrup out? It’s extremely hard to tell – only the parties involved know.

Like Laudrup’s ultimate decision, the truth probably lies between either extreme. On the flip-side, the Spanish media reported that Larsen’s inappropriate words against Serra Ferrer came not because of hostile working conditions, but because he was denied a bonus in the wake of the de Guzman transfer saga. Dig long enough and, like virtually any political situation, you can uncover dirt on everyone.

The bottom line is that a hugely important victory for the team has been completely overshadowed – not for the first time in this fledgling season – by events off the pitch. Many would point to the political unrest behind the scenes as the reason for Mallorca’s woeful form in the first few games, and in many ways it’s hard to disagree, because as the game against Sociedad proved, the team does have the ability to perform better when called upon. Hopefully the club can sort out Laudrup’s replacement as quickly as possible so as to eliminate all of this uncertainty and unrest – and hopefully stability behind the scenes, in addition to the boost of momentum a managerial change often affords a group of players, will be enough to return the team to the best of its form.

And there are some brilliant names being tossed around at the moment to fill the vacancy. Luis Aragonés is a legend of the Spanish game – and of Mallorca – and he would be welcomed back to the club with open arms, should the gulf between his and Mallorca’s financial expectations be resolved. Joaquín Caparrós is another fantastic manager who is proven in La Liga and did a wonderful job at Athletic Bilbao over the course of a few seasons; he, too, would be welcomed. Other long-shots such as Quique Sánchez Flores, formerly of Valencia, have had their names tossed into the mix, and I for one would be ecstatic to witness his arrival.

In the meantime, the best of luck to Miguel Ángel Nadal, who will in all likelihood be taking charge of the team for the trip to Osasuna this weekend.

So, lastly, how to remember Michael Laudrup? First impressions of him as the manager of Los Bermellones were fantastic. In the wake of our European expulsion, Laudrup led the team to a fantastic run in the first half of last season, with the team at one point pushing on towards the European spots, momentarily proving the doubters wrong. His tactical acumen saw us record some unbelievable victories and gain points against the likes of Barcelona and Madrid. At first, it seemed like a match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, at that halfway point of the season, things very much unravelled for Laudrup and Los Bermellones. That good early season form was the team’s only saving grace, as an utterly abysmal second half of the season saw the team drop further and further in the standings as the weeks ticked by, eventually avoiding relegation on the final day. Maybe the young squad simply ran out of steam, or maybe it had to do with Laudrup alienating some key players and all but refusing to play them – somewhat ironic now, given his annoyance at the lack of options in the transfer market.

But at the end of the day, he led the club to survival, even if it was by the skin of our teeth – and with the resources he had to work with, that’s an admirable task. But form doesn’t lie, and Mallorca simply haven’t been the same team they were at the start of last season – early defeats this time around seem to echo the wrong half of last year. Laudrup seemed to lose control of the team as that season drew on; maybe it’s true that he never really regained that control heading into the new one.

All in all, a managerial change is, as Laudrup put it on his way out, “the best solution for the good of the team”. But despite things going sour towards the end, just like his players, I have a lot of respect and admiration for him. Some questionable managerial decisions aside, he was always a gentleman on the touchline, and he certainly inspired a degree of respect wherever he went. The very best of luck to him at his next club; I, for one, wish him well.

Borrowing Time

Four games into the fledgling season Mallorca’s bright, if fortunate, start has now descended into our worst fear; on the back of three consecutive defeats, Los Bermellones are facing a major crisis of confidence. With so few games played the team obviously has plenty of time to turn things around, but that has to start somewhere – and the major problem at the moment is that this catalyst doesn’t appear to be anywhere in sight.

Something has to change. The question is: what?

In those first four appearances, Los Bermellones have managed just one goal – which came extremely fortuitously from the now-departed Jonathan de Guzman. Essentially, then, Mallorca have yet to hit the back of the net this season, and whichever way you look at it – 3 games or 4, 270 minutes or 360 – this is an extremely worrying statistic. Indeed, this underlines the main problem with the squad at the moment: without scoring, there’s no way to win.

Of course, heading into the season, we all knew that the squad was looking short on firepower. There are only two recognised strikers in the squad in Tomer Hemed and Víctor Casadesús, but neither has shown the goal-scoring pedigree needed to lead the line in the same way Pierre Webó did last term. Still, despite this knowledge – despite coming into the season knowing that no reinforcements were likely to be forthcoming – I don’t think anyone expected things to be this bad.

Unfortunately, the problem for Los Bermellones extends beyond the (not-so) simple task of finishing; it all stems from a lack of creation. In those four games, Mallorca have probably created just half a dozen genuine chances from which you would expect to score, and this simply isn’t enough. Without creating good chances, no forward – whether they are a mediocre squad player or a world class icon – is likely to get on the scoresheet regularly, so it’s unfair to point the finger of blame squarely at one area of the team. The departure of de Guzman has left a hole in the midfield’s creative department – and this vital component of the team is something that needs to be addressed urgently.

At the moment, Emilio Nsue has looked like one of the team’s best players so far this season – he has been one of the only midfielders showing some dynamism and creativity, often managing to form half-decent chances for himself, if not his teammates. His problem, as he has admitted openly, is needing to improve on the end product. Sergio Tejera has looked composed in the centre of midfield, echoing de Guzman, but he has so far lacked that incisive, cutting edge in the final third; close, but no cigar. Meanwhile, Castro has shown glimpses of getting back into his swift stride, and should be given an opportunity in the first team ahead of the as-yet underwhelming Alfaro.

One man who the team is clearly missing in the centre of the pitch is Pep Marti, whose veteran edge often keeps the team much more fluid and composed. Tomas Pina looked extremely out of his depth against an average Villarreal this week, for example, as his passes were often wayward and his tackling often clumsy. When young players like this are called up to the first team, they would benefit greatly from playing alongside Marti and his wealth of experience.

Moving away from chance creation, further complications arise, of course, when the team’s defensive frailties reappear. Without the solidity of a good defensive midfielder protecting them, the back four is getting exposed much more – and simply doesn’t look able to deal with it at the moment. Whether it’s through a lack of organisation, confidence or simply talent is up for debate, but too often Mallorca have conceded soft goals so far this season, and have in the process forfeited any chance of scraping vital points. Uncharacteristic mistakes from the leaders at the back – Ivan Ramis and Dudu Aouate – have cost the team on more than one occasion, whilst Chico looks more like a fish out of water with every passing match. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marti Crespi given one more chance at the back, as Chico desperately needs time to take a breath and compose himself, at the very least.

All in all, then, it’s been a pretty dismal opening to the season for Los Bermellones fans – after managing to grab three lucky points on the first day, there have been very, very few positives. From the poor finishing to the lack of chance creation and from defensive frailties to unfortunate mistakes, pretty much everything has gone wrong for Mallorca.

So what can change? Many are calling for Laudrup’s head, but I’m on the fence. One can truly understand where he’s coming from with his complaints towards the board, who have left him with very few options in both attack and defence. But at the same time, he has to expect that, and should endeavour to boost the confidence of the players he does have at his disposal – Mallorca do possess players with a wealth of talent, and if Laudrup can manage to get the best of them, then many of the team’s problems will go away.

Maybe all that needs to change is for the players to gain their confidence back; perhaps if they manage just one goal, it will open the floodgates and give the team some much needed momentum. Indeed, the players are operating at the moment as though they have a huge mental block standing in the way of scoring – their desperation and frustration in the closing stages of the match against Villarreal was plain for all to see. One successful chance may eradicate all of that, easing the pressure and giving everyone in the team a boost.

A shortcut to gaining this momentum and giving the players a fresh start, of course, would be a managerial change. But unless Laudrup walks away, this seems an economically unviable option for the club, taking into account its delicately balanced finances. Or maybe that’s a necessary risk to avoid further trouble down the line…

One thing is for certain: the club needs to turn its fortunes around, one way or another. At the moment, I’d say we should keep the faith in Laudrup and the squad in the same way Laudrup should keep the faith in the players he has, not the players he could have had with a bigger transfer budget.

Up next, though, is a winnable home match against Real Sociedad, and it provides the team with an excellent opportunity to get things back on track. Should they fail to do so, though, then perhaps the thin ice Laudrup is treading will begin to crack even more rapidly – maybe there will be no other choice.

Many would say that the manager is on borrowed time already. The bigger worry is that, unless Los Bermellones start to get some points on the board, it may be the club’s position in La Liga that is on borrowed time.

All About Timing

I don’t know about you, but for me, international breaks are nothing more than distractions; they are constant annoyances that pop up at the worst possible times and destroy any momentum that the season begins to create. The plight of the national team means far less to me than that of my club – both in Spain and in England – and whilst it may be interesting to track the nation’s progress through one of the major tournaments, the hindrance that getting there creates to the domestic leagues makes me wonder whether any of it is worthwhile in the first place.

The international break underway at present is the most annoying of all, for it is the one that disrupts the very start of the season, grinding matters to a halt before they even begin. For those of us who had been waiting all summer for La Liga to kick back into action, the strike – though understandable and necessary – was a heavy pill to swallow, and that only lasted for a week.  So then finally, after all of that waiting, the season’s opening round of fixtures was played – but just like that, the rug was pulled from underneath us once again, the international calendar dictating that we should wait another two long weeks before quenching our thirst for more club games.

The good news, of course, is that the wait is almost at an end – we’re a few days away from La Liga’s long-overdue second round of fixtures. The bad news? Well, a lot has changed since Mallorca clinched victory on the opening day.

With the transfer window still open after picking up those vitally important first three points, most fans were optimistic that Llorenç Serra Ferrer, Mallorca’s Sporting Director, would overcome the club’s financial constraints to pull another signing out of the bag – namely a striker. Rumours floating round about the arrival of Seba Fernandez from Malaga were welcomed warmly, but in the end his transfer seemed to be nothing more than dust blowing in the wind. A few other names persisted, but didn’t seem to come to anything.

Then Marvin Ogunjimi’s name was thrown into the mix.

For all intents and purposes, Serra Ferrer does appear to have pulled one out of the bag – Ogunjimi looks to be a young, promising striker, perhaps of the mould to replace the outgoing Pierre Webó, and his status as a Belgium international certainly lends his quality some credence. But in a world where timing is everything, seven minutes can make a big difference – and Mallorca, having been informed that the Belgian FA received the paperwork seven minutes too late, are now facing an anxious wait, an entire week after the transfer window slammed shut, to see if UEFA will allow the transfer to go through.

It’s a case of crossed signals, with the Spanish FA – and the player himself – believing the move to be all but complete; a fact that the Belgian FA are all too keen to contest. And whilst many of the parties may be acting like it is a done deal, pending UEFA’s decision, it has echoes of the failed bid for striker Anthony Ujah back in January, where Lillestrom upped the price at the last moment, leaving Mallorca with no option but to back down – and with no chance of signing a different player.

By leaving transfer dealings until the last minute, Serra Ferrer has not only put the signings in jeopardy, but has drawn criticism from coach Michael Laudrup, who is upset with a variety of the board’s strategies. But whilst his frustration at the team’s lack of transfer power is understandable, one can’t help but think Laudrup should focus on showing faith in the players he has, and using them to achieve the best possible results week in, week out. Questioning their ability and undermining their confidence will do no favours to anyone.

The worst news, of course, comes in the form of the conclusion to the long-running Jonathan de Guzman saga – where Villarreal, having met Mallorca’s total asking price, have successfully pried away the club’s key playmaker. There’s no denying that de Guzman was a central part of the team’s strategy, and that without him we are certainly worse off. The one slice of good news related to it, though, is that the club held out for the highest sum possible – and, providing that the Mallorca hierarchy’s dodgy dealings are in the past, this will no doubt help repair the club’s finances immeasurably.

In Fernando Tissone, Serra Ferrer did have an arrival in mind to replace de Guzman in the centre of midfield – although it must be noted that the Argentinean is not a straight swap, being more defensive-minded as opposed to a playmaker in the mould of the Dutchman. But Tissone is a player with a decent pedigree in the Italian Serie A, and may be able to add some stability to central midfield in the wake of de Guzman’s exit.

The real question on everyone’s mind, of course, is who is going to step up to provide some attacking intent from the midfield in a squad that is already short of firepower up front. Does Tejera have what it takes – or will we have to look elsewhere?

It’s not all bad news, though. De Guzman may have abandoned the island, but players such as Ivan Ramis and, amazingly, Chori Castro, remain. Castro in particular has long been linked with moves away and a year ago, when he seemed almost certain to be heading for the exit, it was almost unimaginable to think that he would still be here a year on. He didn’t have a great season last time around, but if he can recover his form from the years prior to that, then he could prove to be a vital piece of Los Bermellones’ attacking puzzle.

To find some more good news, we must backtrack for a moment – so let’s focus on the highlight of the past couple weeks: Mallorca’s opening day victory against Espanyol. Three points on the first day – a rare occurrence for Los Bermellones – was the perfect way to get the season up and running, and though they were won more with luck than anything else, they have put the club into a good early position and will likely fill the players with a lot of belief. At first glance seeing de Guzman on the 1-0 scoresheet seems to highlight his importance to the club, but it’s a little bit of an exaggeration – his tame shot took a heavy deflection before rolling slowly into the net, and again, the goal was born more out of luck than skill.

The positive aspect of this is that many would say you make your own luck – and that’s certainly what Los Bermellones did at the Iberostar Estadi. Indeed, on the balance of play Mallorca probably deserved all three points, and some of the team’s play in midfield was neat and slick, but there are still question marks in defence, especially when crosses are zipped in from the wings – the team just don’t seem to be able to deal with them comfortably. Let’s hope Laudrup has been investing his training time wisely.

The biggest question marks, of course, remain up front. Mallorca were hardly on fire in the chance-creating department, but they created enough for the team to have scored more than the one deflected goal, and this is a worry – because finishing (or not finishing, as may be the case) those chances is what determines victory, and in the long run, league position. It seems basic, but it’s true – and Mallorca need to improve.

Los Bermellones do seem to have the ability, though: Tomer Hemed looked lively throughout the game and certainly seems promising – I’d wager that it’s only a matter of time before he gets onto the scoresheet – and whilst Víctor Casadesús fluffed a few decent chances towards the end of the Espanyol game, he always seems to be at his best and most confident when given a decent run in the side, and with the shortage of options up front, he’s likely to be given the chance to prove himself. In the same vein, Emilio Nsue’s missed a few good opportunities of his own, but his pace and ability to play from the wings add something different and dynamic to the squad. Add to the mix – hopefully – the arriving Ogunjimi and things are looking brighter in the attacking department… and all of this is without mentioning the return of the injured Michael Pereira, who is often another lively threat from the wing.

Up next Mallorca travel to Sevilla to take on newly-promoted Real Betis. Betis scraped a slender victory of their own on the first day, and heading to Andalusia for their first home game of the season will be an extremely tough encounter, especially given that sides new to the division always seem to play with something to prove at the outset of their campaign. It’s a tricky fixture, and if Los Bermellones want to emerge with something to show for their efforts, they’re going to have to improve on the sluggish attacking performance they showed at home to Espanyol.

Fortunately, Mallorca have a few things of their own to prove, and with a healthy combination of luck and ability should be able to take one of their chances. Either way, we’ve been starved of action for too long – the timing of Sunday’s midday kickoff can’t come soon enough.

A Measure of Improvement

For a moment, it seemed like a case of déjà vu. After another barnstorming first half display to satisfy the raucous Anfield crowd, Liverpool once again headed into the break with a lead that didn’t quite reflect their dominance – the solitary goal that stood between themselves and visitors Bolton certainly didn’t tell the full tale of the first 45 minutes. For all of Liverpool’s possession in the first half, for all of their fantastic chances, for all of their excellent movement, the game remained wide open; Bolton weren’t finished yet. So despite being buoyed by the early brilliance of the reds, something unsavoury lingered in the back of the minds of the Anfield faithful – memories of just two weeks ago, where Sunderland, in the exact same position, turned the game on its head to steal a valuable point from within Liverpool’s grasp.

But in the space of just over a minute, Liverpool allayed all fears of a repeat occurrence this weekend; two quick-fire strikes from Martin Skrtel and Charlie Adam saw to Bolton and all but ended the match as a contest, propelling the reds forward to a forceful victory.

It was the way the script for the season opener against Sunderland should have unfolded – with Liverpool laying waste to an opponent that was already on the ropes. It was the sort of ruthless home performance that has been missing from the reds’ arsenal for far too long, where too often in the past few seasons Liverpool have needlessly surrendered points at Anfield in games where expectation has weighed the side down.

It was proof that, even in the short space of two weeks since the last home game, the team is improving. The reds have taken that setback in their stride and worked to overcome their failings; Dalglish and his side have analysed where they have previously stuttered, and sought to right their wrongs.

No – there was no déjà vu this week, no anticlimactic, frustrating and flat end to an otherwise rapturous opening. Liverpool came out from the break looking as hungry as ever, determined to put the game to bed instead of letting their opponent off the hook, and it is this small detail, this simple change in approach, that made all the difference.

Certainly, confidence may have played a part in this fortified mentality. Coming off the back of two successive victories away at Exeter and, more importantly, Arsenal, the team looked to be self-assured, filled with belief and positivity. With such confidence flowing through their veins, the team’s passing and movement was the most fluid it has been yet in the young season, and the chemistry shown between a group of players that are still getting to know one another was, in truth, startling. The team may have allowed a sense of creeping anxiety – and, perhaps, fatigue – to override their performance against Sunderland, but those demons have been firmly exorcised now. If nothing else, the team should know for certain that it has what it takes to put so-called ‘weaker’ teams to bed when the pressure is on.

One aspect of the performance that gets optimism levels soaring is just how balanced the team dynamic was throughout the game. A far cry from the years of relying upon Gerrard or Torres, for example, to win games, there now seems to be a true team ethic on the pitch, where goals can be scored through crafty, measured build-up play rather than individual brilliance – though that is still on display in abundance.

Indeed, the amount of players who can be game-changers on their day is exceptional – and something that the side hasn’t had in a long time. Players like Downing and Adam can be relied upon to create chances, whether from a vicious cross or sublime pass (from open play or from set-pieces, where Liverpool now look extremely dangerous for the first time in years – just ask Martin Skrtel), and with players such as Henderson now stepping up to make a difference, the future certainly looks bright. Add to this a pair of rampant full-backs in Enrique and Johnson (when he’s fit again), and the strength in depth that can see players like Meireles and Maxi come off the bench to make their own impact, and there truly are reasons to be positive. This is without even touching on the ever-reliable Kuyt and the majestic midfield force that is Lucas – who had an absolutely outstanding game this weekend – too.

The brilliance of Suarez cannot be denied, of course, but while he may play the role of the star up front, capable of both creating and finishing a plethora of chances, the difference that the supporting cast makes is immeasurable. And with Gerrard still to return – the man around whom the entire squad has been built for the past decade or so; a squad which is now flying even without him – the team looks, in many ways, stronger than ever.

All of this, though, is still forgetting Liverpool’s most expensive player ever, Andy Carroll. Dalglish’s task is to find a way to incorporate the striker’s brute force into a team that is otherwise built upon craft and technique – and there are question marks over the success of this tactic thus far. At times, Carroll looks a little out of his depth with the style of play surrounding him, and not for the first time this season the team’s momentum ground to a little bit of a halt with him leading the line against Bolton. What’s more, there is always the worrying tendency that his sheer presence will mean the team’s measured, inventive passing is sacrificed for a more tactless long-ball approach – great when it pays off, but not pretty to watch by any stretch of the imagination. On the plus side, Dalglish does seem to be weaning this out of Liverpool’s game – even in the dying stages of the game against Bolton, the reds did still seem eager to keep the ball on the floor and continue with their swift passing game.

Carroll should by no means be written off, however. He certainly provides the team with a different option if things aren’t going to plan, and adds an element of power to Liverpool’s arsenal. And despite the question marks lingering over his head, if he can adapt his play to slot seamlessly into Liverpool’s passing system, then his presence on the pitch will be massive.

So after this weekend’s emphatic performance against Bolton, optimism levels will be soaring – but despite all the reasons for positivity, we shouldn’t get carried away. The team has provided evidence that it is evolving and improving with each passing game, and by adding ruthless home performances to a repertoire that also includes being able to emerge victorious from clashes with teams in the league’s higher echelons, the only thing that is required now is consistency, and the building confidence that goes with it.

Fortunately, the squad is looking settled, and some excellent performances and a goal or two from new players like Adam and Henderson will do them the world of good bedding into the rhythm of the club. And whether the results fall our way or not, one thing is for certain – if the reds can continue to put on such excellent pass-and-move displays, then we’re in for an exciting season indeed.

Reality Check

The first day of every new season brings with it an unstoppable wave of optimism, ridden by every single fan of every single club the world over. The old adage says that it is a time where every team is equal, where anything is possible.

So if Anfield was bouncing at the outset of this afternoon’s game – and it certainly was – then it was for one reason, and one reason alone. The fans could sense it. An air of positivity had been reverberating around the city during a summer of constant improvement, and was now hanging in the air of the club’s famous, hallowed ground. It had all been building up to this one moment; a moment shared by every red across the city, around the world. This was a new beginning.

But it wasn’t simply the start of the season that had Liverpool fans so excited. No – it was something else entirely.

This afternoon’s fixture marked the start of Kenny Dalglish’s first full season at the helm of the club – in his second stint, at least – the true dawning of his new age. His successes throughout the second half of last year, in light of the season ahead, can be thought of as little more than the prologue to what will hopefully be the long, successful story to come.

That was a time of rehabilitation and rejuvenation, marking the transition into Dalglish’s era, not only in terms of style but in the changes to the staff, both on and off the pitch. In the grand scheme of things, it was a period of preparation, and nothing more – six months filled with relatively little pressure, a way for Dalglish to ease his way back into the groove (or, perhaps, to ease Liverpool back into his).

On today’s evidence, however, Dalglish doesn’t quite seem to have finished preparing his side for the task ahead.

Dalglish’s return halfway through last year brought a sense of real possibility; FSG’s summer overhaul of the squad brought a sense of belief; this first day of the new season brought with it that undeniable sense of optimism. All the pieces seemed to be in place.

But those pieces came tumbling anticlimactically to the ground as Liverpool were dragged back to reality, held to an underwhelming 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland in a game that should have been wrapped up within the first 45 minutes.

It was a reminder that for all the preparation, for all the optimism, it still comes down to those 90 minutes – and anything can happen.

Liverpool opened the game in buoyant, fluid fashion, passing at pace and attacking with menace. The game could have been over before it even began had circumstances been slightly different – in many eyes Richardson’s blatant trip on Suarez, who was one-on-one with the goalkeeper, would have been construed as a certain, game-changing red-card. Alas, it wasn’t so in the eyes that mattered on the day.

But Suarez’ resulting penalty kick was a poor effort, and Liverpool only had themselves to blame for not being ahead within the first ten minutes. Of course, Suarez didn’t wait long to make up for it, nodding in the opening goal just moments later – but the real disappointment, looking back, are the missed opportunities, the wasted attempts to capitalise on a first half in which Liverpool were the far stronger, more dominant side.

Instead, Liverpool’s failure to make Sunderland pay led to the away side clinching a draw with what was, in truth, a fantastic strike that in many ways deserved more than a point. But inside Anfield, of course, it’s impossible to sympathise with the visitors.

As proceedings became more and more tense, the reds looked less likely to score – players who were on fire in the first half simply faded away, and those who came into the game barely made an impact (Dirk Kuyt’s supreme effort, as always, being the exception). It was yet another example of something that has plagued Liverpool for far too long, especially at home against lower opposition: when the pressure is on, when great expectations hang in the air, far too often the team falter. It may have taken a wonderful strike for Sunderland to equalise, but this still highlights Liverpool’s lack of killer instinct when it truly counts – and it is this killer instinct that Dalglish must breed into the team to have any chance at success.

The result also underlines the need for defensive reinforcement, or at the very least a little tweaking. The capture of José Enrique has seemingly solved the problem at left-back, and his debut, whilst unspectacular, was steady. It must be remembered that he has been thrown straight into the deep end, with barely any training alongside his teammates under his belt, so one would think that he will become a more imposing figure in the Liverpool backline as time goes by. Certainly, though, another quality centre-back seems like the reds’ final priority heading towards the end of the transfer window – Carragher and Agger may be a formidable partnership on their day, but the slowing of the team’s vice-captain has been long noted, and Agger’s fitness record is less than impressive, as we all know.

The biggest defensive problem this afternoon, though, came in the form of John Flanagan, who afforded Larsson too much time and space to line up his spectacular volley and began to look shakier as the game wore on. With Martin Kelly available on the bench, starting with Flanagan seemed an odd inclusion – and although Dalglish’s faith in his youngsters is certainly refreshing, I would hope that when Johnson and Kelly are both fully fit they will slot in at right-back on the majority of occasions over the coming season, with Flanagan there as a capable backup when called upon.

Despite the game trudging to a frustrating halt as it neared its conclusion, however, there were some real positives in the first half, largely due to the team’s new acquisitions. The pairing of Dalglish and Comolli seems to have resulted in some fantastic signings – certainly, Downing’s extortionate price wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind when his thundering strike rattled high into the air off the crossbar after a dazzling run. Much like the rest of the team, he may have faded away in the second half, but more performances like that of the first 45 minutes will see him become a staple of Liverpool’s wings for years to come. This idea has been used by many to justify his purchase, and on today’s evidence it seems to hold even more accuracy – he may not have been the best player available for the money, but he may well be the best player available to slot into Dalglish’s system.

Another reason for optimism was the performance of Charlie Adam – in glimpses, at least. His acquisition, though capping a long, arduous pursuit, was met with limited fanfare as it came on the back of Henderson’s signing and the return of Aquilani. Indeed, it seemed like Liverpool may be heading towards having an embarrassment of riches in the central midfield positions – but Adam may yet turn out to be the jewel in the centre of the crown. His quick passing and slick vision was at the heart of Liverpool’s play in the first half (though, like many, this trailed away as the game wore on), and FSG’s desire to snap him up – which revolved largely around his deadly set-pieces – was instantly justified with the assist for Suarez’ opening goal… from a free-kick, no less. Add to that his trademark efficiency from corners, which was displayed at times today, and that assist may prove to be the first of many for Adam – the beginning of something special indeed.

Make no mistake, then: today was about more than the start of the new season. It marks the true beginning of a new chapter in the club’s history – a blank canvas on which Dalglish may now build his vision, and in the grand scheme of things, two dropped points won’t live too long in the memory. What counts is how the team recover from this afternoon’s setback, and how they perform over the course of the entire season – starting with Arsenal.

It may not have gone quite to plan, but today still marks a fresh start for Liverpool, and whilst it may be unrealistic to dream too high, the old adage certainly had it right – going forward, anything is still possible.