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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Is Benitez playing games with Agger as he did with Keane?

Daniel Agger is a superb centre-back. Not only is he commanding in the air and a good reader of the game but he is also comfortable on the ball and has an imagination and ability for going on surging attacking runs or stroking an accurate attacking long pass. Plus he has the technique to strike an excellent shot as testified by his long range scorcher against West Ham a couple of seasons back.

For me it is typical of the pragmatic defensive-minded Rafa Benitez that he rates the 'no-nonsense' purely defensive Martin Skrtel above Daniel Agger. I imagine him writing in his note-book during games a big tick against Skrtel for his aggressive defending and simple passes while putting a question mark against Agger's name when he makes as interception and then embarks on a dribble beyond the half-way line.

When Skrtel received his nasty ligament injury in October Daniel Agger came into the team and Liverpool maintained their tight defensive record. His performance away against Bolton was excellent - losing a tooth and playing on with courage. Against Arsenal it was his vision and ability to play a long pass that saw Keane go on to score a crucial equaliser. And against Wigan he immediately atoned for a defensive error by launching into a committed run deep into the Wigan defence which led to the comeback goal.

But despite being an effective part of a team that had maintained Liverpool's lead of the Premier League he started being undermined by Benitez. The ageing Sami Hyppia started getting games in front of Agger. And then when Skrtel was fit he displaced Agger immediately. Agger has been a regular unused sub in the last seven weeks when Liverpool have stuttered and today against Man City was even displaced from the bench by Hyppia. If Agger wasn't injured major questions should be asked of Benitez why he was left completely out.

It looks to me like Benitez's self-defeating style of man-management is on display again. His treatment of dropping Keane just as the Irishman was building up good confidence was head-shaking. And now it looks like we are seeing another stylish and determined player like Agger being slowly frozen out of the Liverpool first team.

Its disappointing because Keane and Agger are good footballers to watch and I believe they make Liverpool a more attractive and dangerous prospect because of their creativity and ball-playing ability.

There is a strong suspicion that Keane was frozen out because Benitez was looking to prove a point and stamp down his authority - though for what reason its unclear and anyway to me there can be no good reason for the treatment that the Irish captain received. Is he doing the same to Agger: leaving him out for non-footballing reasons and ultimately playing a pointless game with someone's career while also damaging the playability of the team. It looks to me that he is.

What's your own reading on the Agger/Benitez situation?


Blogger Lars Ulrik said...

I'd rather have Agger in Liverpool than Benitez. Much rather.

2/22/2009 10:16 pm

Blogger Skipper said...

T, good article: It is well established that Rafa is a defensive coach. His pre-match talk revolves around how his team should stay “compact”, when Liverpool go a goal down he barks out “compact”, when Liverpool go a goal up he barks out “compact”. Rafa is absolutely obsessed with keeping Liverpool “compact”. Only when we enter into the last 15 minutes, with time running out he unleashes the team. This is why Liverpool have come back 8 times from a losing position this season in the last 15 minutes to win 7 times and draw once this season. Quite incredible you may think, but that only tells you half the story.

When you look at the 6 games that we have drawn at home, you will note that Liverpool never went for the teams in the first 15 minutes, like they did in the last 15 minutes. I would go further to say that Rafa’s obsession with keeping his team “compact” has cost Liverpool dear.

People go on about Liverpool lacking the cutting edge without Gerard and Torres. Well, that is certainly true but Rafa is to blame for this. Rafa never gives our other flair players a chance. Babbel, Kean and Aggar are players with flair, the can make something happen. But Rafa never gave Kean a chance, he keeps dropping Agger and brings on Babbel for 7 or 8 minutes, sometimes 15, if Babbel is lucky.

Rafa, your compact theory may work in cup competitions. The premiership is an unforgiving league and being compact is not the answer to winning the league.
Liverpool had a great chance of pushing United all the way this season.

Today, one week still left of Feb, Liverpool have yet again fallen short, barring a miracle, United will win the league comfortably. Rafa with his team selection and tactics is the reason why Liverpool have fallen short again.

2/22/2009 11:39 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

time for rafa to quit liverpool, although his record in champion league is superb but with him on the side, liverpool will never win premier league. I dont understand with his treatment for crouch,Keane and Agger. Those three are excellent player. Pennant is much better a right side winger than kuyt, yet he never gave him a chance after an impressive display against AC.Milan. have been supporting liverpool since i was boy and they never won premier league yet.. what a loser we are at the moment

2/23/2009 3:10 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the article T - it's nice to get an objective view and your views are accurate.

and thanks skipper for your comment.

liverpool have suffered in recent years under houllier and benitez because they are both defensive coaches. houllier won 4 cups during his reign, and benitez, so far, has won two cups and been runners-up in two.

netiher have challenged for the league title. the facts tell the story.

the owners are waiting to see if rafa wins anything this season, and if he doesn't, he will go.

we need a manager who likes to attack, someone fresh and young . . . someone in the mould of frank rikaard.


2/23/2009 9:15 pm

Blogger T said...

Thanks SKG.

I like to think from time to time on who should follow Arsene should he leave. Michael Laudrup came onto my very short list last year. Now there is someone else: Roberto Martinez!

2/24/2009 10:11 am

Blogger Abdul said...

Solid article and good comments. Skipper, I agree that Rafa is very inflexible and this is costing Liverpool. He seems to put his own methods ahead of what is good for the team in exactly the manner you have set out.

T - good call re Martinez. I was impressed with his knowledge and insight on spanish football a few seasons back on Sky. I'm glad that he is looking like a really good coach. Give him a few more seasons and he could really be ready for a big job.

2/25/2009 7:26 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

I'm sorry, it doesn't seem to follow that a coach can do well in cup competitions but not in the league. The differences are, granted, the league is a more prolonged campaign but do you not prepare for the league likewise as you do with a cup game?

I still feel, deep down, Rafa can win us the league. If people say it is down to his stubbornness why Liverpool are not further ahead of Man Utd, much less on top, then it is for Rafa to either realise that or for us to keep quiet.

'Does he want the league or not?', is the question. From what people are saying he doesn't. Now we have witnessed or heard of or read how Liverpool, appearing apparently so frail in the league, have come up against Real Madrid where most media sources talked of their 10 wins since Ramos took over. I know I read somewhere Arjen Robben himself boasting he will score in both legs and end our CL campaign.

Benitez wants to run the team, the boardroom antics is not his arena and as long as they stay out of his business, he will stay out of theirs. And until then, he cannot function as he wishes, not entirely.

He has done it before, and has only been in one league. For him to come to Liverpool, shows passion and an eye for adventure for a reason. He may have fallen out with the Valencia execs and seen Liverpool as a way out, but let's not be hasty and forget this man endorsed himself with the fans during one European night, personally. Let others pick and niggle if they wish, the time to worry is when he does get to pick and niggle players 100% himself. For the rest.


2/26/2009 2:44 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

"I'd rather have Agger in Liverpool than Benitez. Much rather."

Question: Would Agger have made the difference against Real with another manager? Possibly, could be, maybe. Agger has let to light up in Skrtel's absence. I like him, no doubt, but a first XI start is to be earned, not expected.


2/26/2009 2:46 am


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