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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Liverpool progression with inclusion of Crouch

Saturday's win against Man City made for our 4th consecutive one, our 5th out of the past 6 games. Whereas we were languishing in the bottom half of the table for far too long, we now sit in 7th place, fitting for a side who'd began with a win and 4 draws out of our first 5 games. Bringing in new players who needed to adjust to residing nearer to Anfield, adjust to Liverpool Football Club, and then to the Premiership, coming after the Ataturk final win, the team needed time to gel. Expectations were understandably high, considering the European Cup, through a manager successful in Spain, and having eventually kept our captain and high member of the club.

Looking at our current squad, while others see the potential of a team capable of matching, if not surpassing, Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea, others are yet to be convinced of any sign of a team prepared to dominate in the same vein as the mentioned three have and continue to do. Slowly but surely, as I felt it would happen, Liverpool have emerged up the table, and so they should. It's still a question whether we will achieve a Champions League spot come May but it's certainly not impractical. Along with the presence of the top three, Spurs, Wigan, West Ham, Charlton, Man City made excellent starts to their seasons, Newcastle felt more vibrant with the inclusion of Michael Owen, a guaranteed scorer on reputation.

Our performances domestically have been superseded by that in Europe. In Europe it is the best out of six matches and if successful after that you do not face the other team from your group. Whether that has significance on the quality faced is debatable, but at home the level of expectation in competing in the Premiership is the same at all the other 19 grounds. Table positions may be a factor but as Chelsea found in 19th place Everton, positions can count for very little. So it is in this sense that Liverpool face stiffer opposition in the Premiership than Europe, with obvious exception to Chelsea.

In our first 6 league games we had scored 4, conceded 6; the past 6 league games we have scored 9, conceded 2. Our first win over Sunderland was not comprehensive, and following two no-score draws, earning a point at St Andrews and playing well to draw Chelsea in the Champions League, we collapsed heavily to them the Sunday after. Managing a win against Blackburn after that, we lapsed to a defeat at Craven Cottage and remained in London to visit Crystal Palace and bowed out of the League Cup, something that would have been nice to remain in and win but not a priority. Not a comfortable run of results for European Champions, but the belief was still there. Questions flew about either Liverpool not scoring, or why it was we were developing well in Europe more than the Premiership. We could have sunk into a difficult period, looking for a change of form to rise up the Premiership table. The main thing, for us fans as well as for Rafael Benitez, is that we were creating chances. If we kept doing that, we were halfway there in improving our scoring.

Four clean sheets and 8 goals later, we're looking more a defensive/attacking Liverpool with room for more improvement. The quality of the squad shouldn't have been questioned. Because we do not run away with results as expected straightaway, many consider our performances overall as stale. Less reported on the chances we create, more on the fact that we hadn't scored enough and often.

But now the media keep on the simmer, seeing Liverpool emerge up the table, and doing so without the goals from Peter Crouch. I had said when he was purchased that he wouldn't have been a buy for me, that Benitez had good plans for him in regard to the progress of the team, that even Harry Redknapp, who is renowned for churning out quiet players into good first-teamers, saw something in him. But because he is 6ft 7in and very slim or 'gangly', reporting on him as a potential striker for Liverpool as well as his chances for England was like taboo. Because he hasn't scored yet, he is scoffed at. 'He doesn't have lean muscles like most players and isn't as pacy as other strikers'. 'He is useful in the air because of his height advantage over most, if not all, players, but that seems all to his game.' Please note the inverted commas.

Yet when he came on for England against Columbia, he impressed enough. Against Austria, he played in Michael Owen on occasion, add good touches, good little headers. The same happened for him against Poland, Peter has always aimed to play well, for he knows the criticism he will get if he doesn't contribute enough into the game. And shortly against Argentina he played England safe defensively, a move that led to Joe Cole being found down the left and his cross scored by Owen, with Crouch there behind him, but he didn't get a mention in the match reports.

He can hold the ball, pass and has shown to have a nice touch skillfully, but the current flavour of the month is to point fingers at him, even though he has played quite well. Against Real Betis at Anfield, he came ever so close to scoring on a number of occasions, but little to nothing is mentioned of any writer's gut feeling that, playing as he did against Betis, Crouch must be nearer to scoring, yet more on the fact that he hadn't scored again. I'd prefer he came close than never at all, and he will score. MOTM awards have gone to players who have never scored before. Gone to players who have never scored but made numerous attempts in trying, as well as playing in other teammates, but Crouch will never get MOTM unless he scores. I would like to see Crouch have an excellent game, like he did against Betis, in the Premiership, without scoring, and see if he receives MOTM.

Another under scrutiny is Djibril Cisse. Mixed reactions around LFC fans, mostly in favour of the Frenchman staying at the club, which I agree with. Others say if he goes, it is likely because Benitez wants to bring in someone sharper, more consistent in scoring. There is less media spiel about his scoring and now more on Benitez wanting to release him. He is not interested in leaving, he has been chosen by France coach Raymond Domenech on his appearances for Liverpool and I do not see his World Cup place under threat when he has enjoyed scoring for France recently. While Liverpool's search continues for a suited right-winger, on occasion Cisse helps out and does good work in that position. I'm not content with it but it will do for the time being. Cisse will play wherever as long as he is effective enough for the team He takes comfort from the words of Thierry Henry, who told him while away with France, that he himself took time to settle with Arsenal at the beginning. I feel Cisse will stay and become better.

Lastly, Fernando Morientes. Perhaps another taking his time to adjust to the pace of the Premiership but he has an eye for goal, without any doubt. He will start scoring plenty when he is ready, as he has done so far in the Champions League, and needless to say played well for Real Madrid and Monaco. It is there for the Spaniard, only a matter of time.

Considering Liverpool's strikers have been noted for lack of scoring and we still manage to go up the table, then consider how we'll be when they do, and they will. Defensively, we are holding well (I still have scepticism over Hyypia but happy the Finn is proving me wrong), we have good attacking players, evident from the chances we create, and are winning. With new players, the task was to form well to add consistency to our game, which we lacked somewhat in our first 6, but during our last 6 that consistency has improved and can get even better.



Blogger Big Dave NYC said...

Rafa is coming out with comments this morning that Crouch is our key player this season. As a fanatic Liverpool fan, does anyone really believe this? It's not just that he doesn't score, he doesn't get assists either! If he knocked down balls for our midfielders and the other striker to get onto, his assist tally would be much higher. As it is, he doesn't and it isn't.

11/29/2005 4:00 pm

Blogger BlindJak said...

Liverpool’s creep up the table has been noted by me as it bears the hallmarks of how Jose turned us from also rans into champs. Basically building on a water tight defence and trusting the team to deliver the goals. After all if you don’t concede one is enough.

Rather than look at it as 8 goals conceded over 12 games you should view it as only conceding in 3 of twelve which goes to show the new defensive solidity. If as ix rumoured/expected Raffa adds a central defender ion Jan the situation can only improve.

Last season we proved that you don’t need a 20+ a season striker to win the title (although lamps came close) if you have a defence that doesn’t concede. Further more once that midfield began to believe that we would not concede they pushed higher up the pitch and created more chances and we also added goals to our game a third of the way through the season.

‘Pool seem to now be creating chances in abundance and even if no one striker bangs in a hat-trick every other week the goals will probably be shared around so I would expect ‘Pool to be there or there abouts for the CL spot.

As an outsider I still think you lack quality in depth to be able to, at this stage, to be assured of at least 4th spot. If injuries or suspensions come to Gerrard/Carrager are there ready made replacements waiting to adequately fill the void? But again maybe this is to be redressed in Jan.

Re Crouch. I was, to say the least, surprised when Raffa signed him as I didn’t think a great deal of him at Southampton and could not imagine him playing for the European Cup holders. While I take your point about his performances a striker’s job is to score gaols. For me it’s very reminiscent of watching Sutton and his struggles at Chelsea. Even if Crouch scores against the hapless Sunderland tomorrow night I would be thinking that ‘one swallow does not a summer make’. He’d have to have a run of goals to start turning the opinions of his detractors.

11/29/2005 4:03 pm

Blogger BlindJak said...

Big Dave, I hadn't seen the comments but would guess their meant to try and boost the lads confidence? After all he’s getting a lot of stick in the press with The Sun offering a reward of a create of flat Lambrini for the first keep to concede a Crouch goal. With that kind of pressure Raffa probably though a vote of confidence was just the ticket to show that he still has faith in him.

11/29/2005 4:06 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

rafalution strikes out...highly unlikely

Crouch is undoubtedly more help than hindrance and with all lfc fans(and the media in general) scrutinising him so closely it must be said he is definitely contributing and his confidence is still there...of course that's not to say he won't play even better when (if) a goal comes for him....suffice to say that he is obviously doing what is asked of him and at this stage is anyone really willing to go against rafas judgment - he hasnt made any major gaffes at all and despite the largely meaningless diplomatic platitudes and praise for various players, most notably of course for crouch of late, fed to the media it is all about his team selections..and he keeps on picking him....aside from him there are bigger problems in my opinion....Morientes lack of goals is more worrying to me....he was prolific and now isn't (have no idea why - he was and still should be world class, maybe it's just too quick for his style)....crouch never was and certainly isn't for cisse....i love him (hard not to admire guys with their heart on their sleeve like him) but he is clearly not in rafas good books...he didn't sign him and despite his obvious attributes....immense pace, endless confidence and eager chasing he may be offloaded to bring in an easier to mould, less maverick player who will adhere to the control freak we are all slowly recognising rafa to's not hard to forget that he clearly became frustrated with baros' endless head down runs and constant toing and froing away from what he was supposed to be doing.....cisse is a better player but the chance to generate a big wad of cash to buy someone else may prove too tempting.....but he loves the club, has settled (and married a local) and you have to admire the way he has come roaring back....i mean how many players would surge back from such a bad injury - larsonesque it certainly was a shame the way he was offered about prior to owen signing for newcastle and it cant have done him any good...but his attitude if not all his performances have been first rate for me....i hope we keep him, but if not I hope his departure is swift as he is definitely a popular guy in the dressing room...and if another round of trying to offload him (in january) doesnt work out he will definitely leave in the summer and having him hang around may destabilise things....the world cup will keep him working his socks off for us if he stays (and is unhappy) but i'd just rather he figured out exactly what rafa wanted from him and started doing it....

one thing is for sure - rafa is making liverpool stronger, and the ruthless streak he clearly has will definitely be in evidence if he considers players to be surplus to requirements....he's clearly a great coach so vive la rafalution and........let's hope crouching tiger hurrys up and scores EVEN one goal before we have to go to paris in may for the european cup final.


11/29/2005 8:18 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

I can't see and say at this time that Crouch is or has been a key player, but the improvement has to be there if he is selected for England since joining Liverpool. Despite my misgivings about Eriksson, he didn't have to select him and the fact that he has, and Crouch has played well during his 4 international appearances, shows he has improved. He isn't the typical build of a striker, for most. The view above is not one formed as a LFC fan, Crouch became admirable when with Southampton and Aston Villa.

Big Dave NYC, are these the words you refer to:

"We have had better results and have more confidence and one of the main reasons for that has been the performances of Peter Crouch. He is a very important player for us and he keeps the ball and gives his team-mates great support. He has given us more opportunities and possibilities. I was talking with a couple of the Real Betis defenders after we played them last week and they said Crouch was unplayable at times and they found it very difficult to play against him. Crouch is playing well and it's only a matter of time before he scores a goal."

This words were not the inspiration behind my article, but I understand where Benitez is coming from. Big Dave, I appreciate your view yet surely Crouch does head-ons and touch-ons, it comes as second nature when crosses come within his vicinity? One moment on Saturday came via a free-kick by Finnan and Crouch headed it down to Cisse. Stuart Pearce had spoke of Crouch prior to the game, which went some way to support Benitez's admiration of him:

"I can see why people don't like him. He is not very pleasing on the eye and he is not silky. But in football, you have to be effective and you have to be a team player. I can only go on what I see and he was the best player on the pitch at Anfield against Real Betis so he has to be doing something correct. He is the right age, has the right ability and is a current England international. I was interested in him during the summer but at the time we had not sold Shaun Wright-Phillips and there was no money available. What you have to admire about Crouch is no matter how the game goes, or how his form is, he will not hide. He is under the microscope for England and Liverpool because he has not scored but he showed no sense of anxiety all last night and deserves great credit for that. From what I have been told, he is a great lad to have around. People say he has no confidence but he carried on knocking away and once he mis-hits one into the corner, he will be off and running."

Blindjak, injuries have been a main thorn for us, which I put down as the reason why we seemed to have inconsistency. Where Carragher was to be injured, I don't think we have adequate cover. Zak Whitbread is as good as it gets, loaned to Millwall currently. I had implored for Liverpool to sign two central defenders last season, were we to lose Carragher and Hyypia. As for Gerrard, any two out of Alonso, Hamann and Sissoko can cover, which is very good, but to choose one who will advance like Gerrard, I'd choose Alonso. But central defence is my only concern for alternative cover.

For sure a striker's job is to score, and if they are not they certainly get involved at any opportunity to do so, which is why I'm happy with Crouch at the moment. Also agree with one swallow doesnt make a summer, it is about the consistency and I'm confident Crouch knows that. In fact he wouldn't be much of a striker, for me, if he felt that one or two goals would be enough!

Anon (8.18PM), there could be some elements in Benitez's management to suggest a grip on the players though I sense he has an agenda and expects his players to form within that agenda in order to see his plans come to fruition. I don't want to see Cisse go, hope he very much stays and can score more where he is comfortable, either on the wing or upfront. Taking him off some 5mins into the 2nd half seemed bizarre to most but Benitez has his reasons and fortunately it ended up positive for us. I'm not worried about Morientes, if Liverpool continue to create chances, as Benitez wants, then the strikers will pick up, I'm confident on that too. But I like what you said about Cisse, in that he and Benitez could discuss on what the coach wants from him, but I feel they both do this prior to the game. If Benitez felt Cisse wasn't effective enough, then he subs him. That shouldn't spell that the coach is displeased with him.


11/30/2005 12:26 am

Blogger T said...

Great analysis on the Pool, makes for a really good read Redsman.

Crouch needs Mourinho in his corner who I'm sure would have some choice words for the media bandwagon scrutinising Crouch's every touch! Personally, I find the Media's obsession with Crouch ridiculous. I would rate the media if they concentrated more on the fact that Crouch is the perfect player for Benitez' tactical approach that places great emphasis on having a reliable, nuisance-value target man for his advancing midfielders and striker partner to play-off. In this regard, Crouch is doing his job well and will get better the more he gels with his new teammates.

Crouch will never be a prolific striker- but he was not bought for this role. I take BJ's point about a striker's first job to be to score goals, but Crouch's unique qualities makes him, in my opinion, an exception to the rule. His main job is to increase the goals tally for the whole team, and this is why I beleive Benitez signed him.

Redsman, I have no faith in the general media to uniformly recognise this and rate Crouch's performance on this basis and not on number of goals' scored.

Liverpool's main man is now Carragher. Benitez is replicating his Valencia stratgey of emphasis on a strong defence with strong central midfield protection, and the role Carragher is playing to carry out Benitez' defensive strategy is really impressive.

With Bentiez' guidance he has turned himself into a very reilable centre-back and talisman who has gone right up in my estimation.

11/30/2005 11:04 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

That's exactly my point, T, that Crouch wasn't bought particularly for goalscoring but mainly for the defenders to focus on while others approach to infiltrate. Your analysis of Benitez's thoughts for Crouch when he was purchased are very good.

Crouch has played better than he hasn't, I sense that a number of fans expect he should be scoring every game, as he is with Liverpool, but considering he was scoring for Southampton without such pressure, then it is that mentality he should engage when he is playing. It's hard. Subjectively, were I to be the subject of media hysteria, one way to answer them. But knowing how the media pounce and embellish when they are ready, any comment regarding my performance that I felt was negative or inaccurate remains that way. Would prefer to focus on my performance.


11/30/2005 11:12 am

Blogger Abdul said...

Big Dave NYC - I agree with T and Redsman's analysis. The reason why Rafa is singing the praises of Crouch is not because he thinks he is a great player but because of his contribution in terms of unsettling opposing teams.

He wont get you a lot of goals and he wont even get a lot of direct assists but he can hold up the ball and bring other more talented individuals into play.

Besides, Crouch gets way too much stick from the media - if his manager doesnt try to keep his morale up - who will?

11/30/2005 12:43 pm

Blogger Skippy said...

Great article redsman. I think Crouch will start scoring goals soon.

Starting at the Stadium of light tonight?

11/30/2005 4:22 pm

Anonymous ATHEISTYID said...

Peter Crouch is a decent player. He works hard for the team and he has good technique and ball control for a big man. He definitely gets too much stick in the press. That being said....He is a £7 million striker and needs to make a positive impact. His current growing cult status will dwindle if he fails to score or significantly increase Liverpool's goal scoring capability. He will be a poor signing. I'm a spurs fan and look at Michael Brown. He was bought from a lower level club (no disrespect Blades/Saints fans) and questions were asked about his ability to make an impact at a higher level. Despite this he endeared himself to the spurs faithful by playing every game flat out and working his socks off to win the ball and hold possession. Michael Brown is also not good enough to be at Spurs. Effort is commendable, especially in this day and age of superstar celebrity, but it doesn't compensate for just not being quite good enough. I hope Crouch does well but the more he stalls the more I think Liverpool simply have a decent player whos punching just a little above his weight.

12/01/2005 12:43 pm

Blogger SKG said...

Crouch isn't my favourite player but I admit that he does work hard for the team and can cause the opposition problems.

I'm more concerned with Cisse. The guy is our top scorer this season but all the signs are that he is on his way out. To be honest, there are better strikers than Cisse out there so I won't be shedding any tears if Cisse goes.

12/01/2005 1:51 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Last night Liverpool were operating at 70%, which seemed appropriate to deal with Sunderland judging by the score, but the score does injustice to their efforts (Sunderland's ). Had they sharpened up, they could have scored. We didnt seem to be as strong as other games have shown, I dont know why and I'm grateful for the three points. Sunderland kept coming at us and at times we seemed struggling to deal with the ball. Reina needs to sharpen up a bit himself but he has a good kick on him and came well to punch. Wigan will be a good test for us.

I thought Brown was a decent player for Sheff Utd and when Spurs bought him I expected he'd be attacking from centre mid rampantly, he has a shot on him. i dont know why his form has dipped since then. I trust that Crouch will score, he was close last night, so too was Morientes.


12/01/2005 5:39 pm


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