Roy Hodgson and Sir Bobby Robson were friends, linked by Fulham and their years as Englishmen managing abroad. Had Robson still been with us, he would have recognised the way the name of Kenny Dalglish is used by a section of the club's fans to bait Hodgson whenever Liverpool lose. In his tumultuous year managing Barcelona, Robson received the same treatment at Camp Nou; his every action compared with Johan Cruyff's. Less than a week after overseeing the dismantling of Chelsea at Anfield, the menacing, rhythmic chants of "Dalglish" appeared again at the Britannia Stadium.
Yesterday Glen Johnson's "people" signalled their client's desire to leave Merseyside amid claims he found Hodgson's style of football "boring" and that he felt slighted by criticisms from his manager that he had yet to demonstrate the form that made him England's first-choice right-back. Bayern Munich are said to be monitoring the situation, although for Johnson's sake one hopes the German champions did not monitor his abysmal display in Utrecht in the Europa League or any of his performances in South Africa.
While apologising if his comments made on Wednesday in the wake of Liverpool's 1-1 draw at Wigan Athletic offended the player whom Rafael Benítez brought to Anfield for £18m last year, Hodgson maintained the remarks were fair.
"It is no good being a player of great ability if you are not bringing that to the field of play," he said. "He, as well as I, knows he has not reached that form very often. It amazes me that when you make statements of such obvious veracity people want to make headlines out of it."
Robson seldom enjoyed reading the Catalan press or having it translated for him by José Mourinho. He delighted in relaying the headline in one paper after Barcelona had come from three goals down to win 4-3. "Manager loses the first half, players win the second."
Hodgson did not have the players to cope with the intensity of Stoke's football which was summed up by Jermaine Pennant: "Push on, don't give them anything or even any room to breathe." Pennant, who once felt as constricted by Benítez as Johnson apparently does by Hodgson and found himself at Real Zaragoza as a result, argued that Liverpool lacked the personnel to adapt to the physical challenge Stoke offered. In his time at Anfield, he said, Benítez could employ Peter Crouch. Here there was just Sotirios Kyrgiakos used as a makeshift centre-forward with Fernando Torres labouring with an ankle injury.
Once Ricardo Fuller had punished a failure to clear one of Rory Delap's missiles, the only question was the margin of Stoke's victory. Kenwyne Jones, put through with instinctive intelligence by Pennant, ensured it would be by two clear goals. "They did look uncomfortable," said Pennant, who in the space of a week had tasted victory over two of his array of former clubs – Birmingham was the other and Arsenal arrive in May. "It is probably a lack of confidence but you look at their team and they do need to get strength in certain areas.
"Great sides can play a different team within the squad and still get results but Liverpool are struggling to do that. Some are struggling to cope with the pace and demands of the Premier League but they have to battle through and shine.
"They have a lot of work to do if they want to be challenging Chelsea and Manchester United. I don't know what they can do or what they expect to do but they have to do something. It is hard to live up to the past and the reputation Liverpool have. They want to be the best team in the world and their fans think they should still be that."
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