Date: 29th January 2012 at 9:23pm
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Liverpool have just beaten Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi-finals to seal their first appearance at the ‘New’ Wembley – and deserve credit for good performances in both legs.

But while Liverpool fans can rejoice in the fact that they are competing for cups once again, it will be a good few years before they rejoin Europe’s elite and play in the Champions League.

There is no doubt in my mind that Liverpool will finish outside the top 4 this season (and I’ll be happy to admit I’m wrong and congratulate Kenny Dalglish if they do…).

There are a number of reasons for this but here are the three key ones in my opinion:

 Dalglish is not as good as he, and everyone else seems to think he is.

Yes, he was a top player and understands how the game should be played, and yes, he is a good manager who knows the club and one who everyone respects, but Liverpool’s record under him is only slightly better than his predecessor Roy Hodgson.

Hodgson left Liverpool seemingly having done an awful job but Liverpool scored 27 goals in the league in his time in charge last season. At the same stage this season, Liverpool had 25 goals, albeit having won two more games. Dalglish can get his players up for the big games against Man City, Man United and Chelsea etc, but has still dropped 14 points at Anfield.

The area in which Dalglish has failed most spectacularly is in the transfer market. He spent £100million more that Hodgson and it doesn’t show. Okay, Andy Carroll was an awful panic buy, so we’ll overlook that one, but £20million and £16million respectively on Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson is simply incompetent.

Even Luis Suarez, as brilliant as he undoubtedly is, will never be a 25-goal-a-season striker. There have been some decent buys, I have been impressed with Charlie Adam, and Jose Enrique has performed as well as any left-back in the league this season, but imagine where Liverpool would be if the £70million on Downing, Carroll and Henderson had spent properly.

 The second key reason is that the other teams in the race for the top 4 are too good. City, United and Spurs sill take three places unless one of them capitulates dramatically.
That leaves Chelsea, Arsenal and possibly Newcastle to fight it out with Liverpool for the last remaining place. To be honest I doubt that Newcastle will be able to keep pace throughout the rest of the season, although they do have Demba Ba and new signing Papiss Cisse are due back earlier than expected from the African Cup of Nations.
Chelsea are the favourites for the last Champions League place, they are five points clear of Arsenal and Newcastle, and six clear of Liverpool. Chelsea are still quite inconsistent but Fernando Torres is slowly but surely getting closer to that elusive goal.
They have already signed Gary Cahill and are ready to more business should the opportunity arise. Arsenal too, were going along nicely until three consecutive defeats, but they are still hopeful of singing a left-back and having Jack Wilshere back in a few weeks will feel like the new signing the Arsenal fans have been craving.
 Liverpool don’t score enough goals.
Despite spending over £50million on Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez a year ago, a new striker must be top of Liverpool’s shopping list in the summer.
They have only scored 25 goals in the league this season – less than Blackburn and Sunderland – having failed to score in seven games and only scoring more than twice on two occasions. The lack of goals is the main reason why Liverpool are not closer to Chelsea.
Carroll is having all sorts of trouble adapting to playing for Liverpool and as I said before, Suarez is not a prolific striker. A lack of goals from midfield hasn’t helped either. Downing has not registered a goal or assist in the league all season and although Adam attempts a box-to-box role, Henderson and Lucas/Jay Spearing are unlikely to add anything of note to Liverpool’s attack. The recent return of Steven Gerrard will go some way to solving this problem, but it may be a case of too little, too late for Liverpool now.
Perhaps, in time, Dalglish might be the man to lead Liverpool back into Europe’s top club competition, but I’m afraid it will be a while yet. Chelsea and Arsenal are certain to strengthen in the summer. Tottenham too, will capitalise on a top 4 finish to make sure they stay there, unlike last time.
Manchester’s City and United will also spend big, as they continue to battle each other for every domestic competition and look to improve in Europe. In my opinion it will take a huge effort for Liverpool to finish in the top 4 within the next two seasons, either from the players or the owner’s cheque book, either way Liverpool fans shouldn’t expect a return to Champions League any time soon.