KENNY DALGLISH believes Liverpool’s squad is in excellent shape, despite a spate of recent injuries, as his side prepares to welcome Newcastle United to Anfield this weekend.
The Reds have taken 27 points from their last 14 league games, and are behind only Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League form table.
Their 5-0 win over Birmingham City at Anfield last Saturday was their biggest since September 2010, and enabled them to close to within three points of fifth-placed Tottenham. That it was achieved without a string of first-team regulars, including captain Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and record signing Andy Carroll, makes it even more impressive.
Maxi Rodriguez scored a hat-trick in that success with another forgotten man, Joe Cole, emerging from the bench to add a late strike of his own.
And Dalglish believes the attitude of those so-called fringe players is a credit to the club.
“I think (winning 5-0) is an indication of how far the players have come,” said Dalglish. “It is they who get the results on the pitch, and they did fantastically well against Birmingham.
“It is very pleasant to see the boys come in, and it was great that Maxi got three and Joe got one.
“It is good to see they have kept themselves as close to match condition as they can with the way they have trained, and when they get their opportunity to play, they can play very well.
“They are playing for Liverpool, that is the biggest thing. The fact that they take pride in their own performance shows they take huge pride in the club. I think that was reflected in the performance on Saturday.”
The performances of the likes of Maxi and Cole, as well as the emergence of youngsters John Flanagan and Jack Robinson, have taken on extra significance in the absence of a host of a senior players recently.
Last weekend’s win over Alex McLeish’s Carling Cup winners came minus Gerrard, Carroll, and defensive regulars Johnson, Agger, Martin Kelly and Fabio Aurelio, all of whom are sidelined with injuries.
And Dalglish says the work put in by their replacements could give him a few selection headaches over the next few weeks.
“We did really well against Birmingham,” said Dalglish.
“We had two young lads at right and left-back, and wee Jay in the middle of the pitch. Yes Steven never played and Andy never played, but that is what the club is all about. That is what a squad is there for, to deal with injuries and suspensions as and when you get them.
“It all comes back to myself when they do well. The more they do well, the bigger the problem for me, but the more pleasant it is as well.”
Dalglish, who will make late decisions on the fitness of Carroll (knee) and Johnson (hamstring) ahead of Sunday’s lunchtime clash with the Magpies, says the contribution of Cole, in particular, is worthy of high praise.
“Joe’s goal wasn’t a little contribution,” he added.
“It could be massive for him because he has not had as many opportunities as he would have liked as he’s been injured and suspended.
“He’s had a difficult time, but it is a great credit to him the way he has been training and working every single day. He had a day off planned for Tuesday but he was in training, which is credit to him.
“He’s not let it affect him, and that’s all I can ask for – for anyone when they do get their chance to go on and do their best. He is fantastic in training. He plays everything right and doesn’t have a problem.
“Joe, like Maxi and others out of the team, are giving themselves the best opportunity because, in training, they are committed and determined.
“Everybody has to work hard to get anything and Joe is no different from anybody else. But he’s done that, and has got his chance. It could be important for him.”
Dalglish refused to be drawn on speculation linking the Reds with Blackburn defender Phil Jones, or with Joey Barton, who will line up for Newcastle against them this weekend, but says the Magpies have enjoyed a stellar first season back in the Premier League, after their embarrassing relegation in 2009.
“I think they’ve had a very good season,” he said. “They are newly promoted and had a change of manager (when Alan Pardew replaced Chris Hughton in December). There was a lot of furore about it but he’s gone on and done very well.
“In the January transfer window they lost Andy Carroll, who came here, and they didn’t have an opportunity to replace him because they ran out of time. So I think they can be well satisfied with what they have done this season.”
He added: “You get the reward for what you do on the pitch. If you aren’t good enough then the number of points you get is going to fluctuate.”