The European Champions Rafalution
The spirit emanating after a half-time confidence-cajoling talk, the team played and flowed together to earn their victory. And as the victory celebrations continued, players and management, everyone associated with Liverpool Football Club enjoyed the whole moment, there were due to be two issues that need clarifying. I felt it would be only one, in the final decision regarding Liverpool defending the title this coming season, but there is another. Widely reported, Rafael Benitez needs, not wants or could ponder on, to disband the squad and filter who he believes hasn't impressed him enough from who has. And who probably won't from who he feels will.
The manner of the goals alone emphasised that something needs to be done, something now beyond the Melwood training ground. Marking at the edge of the box was non-existent, as the players occupied an area in expectation of a curved freekick from Pirlo, who instead played the ball into the path of an forwarding Paolo Maldini. Kaka was allowed to run and found Andriy Shevchenko running up on his right. That was down to Djimi Traore ball-watching and not focusing around him to anticipate danger. This happened far too often in the single match, much less in one season. AC Milan's third came on a rapid break, Kaka spun away in midfield and sent away Crespo. Little that could have been done about that goal, other than Steve Finnan keeping his tracking of Crespo instead of believing instead Jamie Carragher would cut the pass out.
The fans have been calling for the chopping of certain individuals, the inclusion of others. In some cases one wished Benitez would listen, others I'm glad he doesn't. At the end of the day I have had faith in the coach from his arrival, looking on his achievements with his previous clubs, particularly with Valencia. I didn't agree with certain choices, certain decisions made during the season but on reflection he is in charge and I have confidence in his vision. He has the intel available to him. The reserve side against Burnley in the FA Cup should have given a far tougher game than they did. The senior side should have performed far better than they have done in the league and at one point, or two, even Benitez was puzzled with what it was that prevented Liverpool from performing well, or alternatively that made them perform so woefully. Being optimistic, looking at Liverpool in 5th place, if they play better and concede much less, then they can break into the top and remain there. But crucially, new players are needed as a number of the current ones have seen their free paper burnt.
In my opinion, Djimi Traore, Sami Hyypia, Jerzy Dudek, and Salif Diao are strong contenders to be shown the exit. Traore has been better under Benitez's supervision and for 2004-2005 we were limited in our left-back cover, though John Arne Riise could play there in an emergency. Traore is tall and can play well when focused but his focus is potentially awry during any game. His own goal against Burnley speaks volumes. His tackling at times have been very questionable, more so than productive. He seems aware he is not installing confidence but smirks as if he is confident he will still get to play. He could have cost us in the final.
Sami Hyypia has given great service since his arrival, he certainly tightened up the back alongside Stephane Henchoz, but he was exposed for pace during the final and has been exposed as much in the league. While Carragher has pace, Hyypia is lacking in his and we now need a pacy strong centre-back as we have been threatened too often by the speed of many forwards. Mauricio Pellegrino has to remain as emergency cover, he too is too slow and unless he improves in pre-season, he must remain as cover.
Dudek made the saves that earned Liverpool the trophy. Jens Lehmann did the same in the FA Cup, yet while the German was sound in his opinion of being Arsenal's no.1, Arsene Wenger gave him a sharp jolt to remind him the position isn't that secure. When the players rushed to celebrate, Dudek wasn't completely swamped. He made good saves but could have cost Liverpool the game with two moments of not gathering an incoming ball as expected from a top keeper. His blunders have cost us previously, predominately against Man Utd while perhaps his best moment of goalkeeping came, ironically, against Utd in the 2003 League Cup Final. The Pole has great potential to be a fabulous keeper yet is another not installing confidence. Despite the efforts on Wednesday, I'm afraid Dudek has to leave. I felt the same for Sander Westerveld, who had equally not convinced that he was really suitable between the sticks for Liverpool.
Salif Diao arrived at Liverpool with El-Hadji Diouf after their performances during World Cup 2002. They looked promising during their first season that year, I recall Diouf's brace against Southampton at Anfield. But since then, particularly 2002, things went down hill after staying unbeaten for 12 games. Diouf had become more intolerant. Diao could fill in for any injured centre midfielder and did so when Gerard Houllier replaced a lame Steven Gerrard with Diao during the 3-3 2nd leg at FC Basle, but since then waned off. Bolton can certainly keep Diouf. Diao is unfortunately surplus to requirements.
The likes of Harry Kewell, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Anthony Le Tallec should be given one last season to improve. Dieter Hamann could be leaving, which I would like not to happen. Vladimir Smicer has performed well for us, had a bundle of energy and skill and linked well alongside Patrik Berger (who shouldn't have been allowed to leave), and it's a pity he is allowed to leave. Milan Baros is another I don't want to see leaving. Along with Kewell, we have four strikers. If Baros is in two minds about leaving, I sense Benitez will convince him to remain for at least one more season. The thing with Kewell is, if he is given one more season, his prowess will have to recover very quickly to be productive from the start of the season. His lack of play will not be tolerated again. Saying this, we may yet see the best from these two after the inspiration of Wednesday night. They have witnessed how motivating Benitez can be.
I wouldn't think Benitez will wish to plunder the transfer market like a Viking invasion. He should be looking for a goalkeeper, a centre-back and a left back. With Gerrard, Alonso, possibly Hamann but if not him then Biscan, his plans for midfield should be adequate for now. Antonio Nunez, Luis Garcia and Riise, and if need be Kewell, are available to shore up on the flanks. Upfront, again depending on Kewell, and Baros, Fernando Morientes has good rapport with Benitez. Djibril Cisse seems hungry and eager to get back into the swing of scoring, so I hope for a pairing to occur instead of a lone striker. While Liverpool need to strengthen their defence, we also need to get into the habit of scoring more too.