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Thursday, February 05, 2009

What now for Liverpool's RB?

Last night's showing from Liverpool was poor. We are not entertaining, we are not scoring,we are not progressing, we are now just simmering. We are not dropping our level but we are not ascending from it either. We are practically at a standstill. The drive, the determination, the grinding out goals, the fight, the playability, had all come to this season, resulting in just one loss in the league. Two all season. Now it's three.

When you consider we started with good players in Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, backed by Albert Reira and Dirk Kuyt, along with Xabi Alonso, we should have attacked at Everton from the whistle and kept to it. Then we lost Gerrard, and note I haven't mentioned Lucas Leiva, and our play went mediocre. The game had both sides more interested in slaps and tickles than bangs and wallops at goal. Torres had to come back often to get involved, who supplies him the ball other than Gerrard?

But the longer it went on, the more you watched Leiva, the more you would suspect a sending-off would ensue. Regardless whether a booking is justified or not, it has happened and will not be rescinded with a period in the sin-bin. Because we don't have one. Being on a warning, your football has to be sharper and more accurate than before, it shouldn't take a warning for that level of your play to come out. Not Leiva. Be sensible, maintain your stance, receive and distribute, ensure you get the ball, because you're on a warning. Not Leiva.

So for more than half an hour of play we had to hold with 10 men. And hold we did. Yet I still suspect Man Utd would have carried the fight nonetheless, it would remain to be seen. But one can refer to their FA Cup tie against Portsmouth more recently, when Tomas Kuszczak was sent off (at practically the same time in that match as Leiva was last night), and Portsmouth could have been beaten at Old Trafford, when Harry Bet Sulley - Sulley Muntari - for the winner. So without Gerrard and then down to 10 outfield players, we had to dig in and hold on. David Moyes was said to be 'elated', but were Everton such an equal to our 10 men, or vice versa?

Nonetheless, Everton are through and we are not, and since the winner host Aston Villa, Everton are more suited to that than we are. Which brings me back to my original point of the article. What now for Benitez? If we are at this point of his management not strong enough to take the fight to Everton, even without Gerrard, then are we really fit to fight for the title? We've seen how Man Utd were at the start of the season without Christiano Ronaldo and as soon as he returned, in the away game at Stamford Bridge, Man Utd had toughened up. Add to that the vigourous contribution of Carlos Tevez almost every time he plays, Man Utd have hit top spot.

Many have stated we should have kept Robbie Keane, and I agree he should have remained until the summer at the least. But the decision to release him was not Liverpool's but more Keane's. And no one should blame him. He wants regular starts, which he got deservedly with Spurs. His captaincy isn't with surprise as he was captain in Ledley King's absence previously. But Keane hadn't added his goal-scoring touch when he played for us, and he did have his chances, let no one tell you otherwise. We needed an immediate response from Keane and we didn't get one. He wasn't suited to our regime as a striker. You need to be scoring regularly to earn your place, that is the strength needed to compete for the title.

And for me Dimitar Berbatov is getting away with his selection when Tevez is eagerly waiting on the bench. Keane has scored five, Berbatov six, so far. If Keane isnt getting a regular start for Liverpool, how is Berbatov doing so for Utd? That is because other players are scoring too. Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, all contribute, even Nemanja Vidic. Liverpool have waned in comparison, Gerrard our top scorer with nine, Torres is 2nd with nine (considering his injury period).

The top fifteen scorers in the EPL consist of five midfielders, Gerrard being one of them. Our midfield consist of Javier Mascherano, Alonso, Riera, Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun, Leiva, Kuyt and none of them feature in the top list of EPL scorers with the exception of Kuyt with five goals. Is this down to the players or is it down to Benitez? Does he tell his players to feed Torres constantly, relying on the former Atletico Madrid captain for goals, or does so to get his striker working more and feeling more confident? Or does he tell his players to keep hold of the ball and only release when it is absolutely appropriate and clear to do so without error?

For me, the situation now is to play on with your strongest team. Gerrard could be out for some time and the likes of Babel, Kuyt, David Ngog, need to be playing regularly. Kuyt started very well at the start of the season, and he has scored as many as Keane. Has been quiet. Babel has determination, pace and a fierce shot, why isn't he regularly employed? Ngog has good international experience and scoring ability, scored well at PSV this season, why not let him come up now with Keane gone?

My formation A: Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger/Skrtel, Aurelio/Insua; Babel, Mascherano, Gerrard, Riera; Kuyt/Ngog, Torres

Formation B: Same goalkeeper and back four; Babel, Alonso, Mascherano, Riera; Gerrard, Torres.

Now it is testing time for Liverpool. A scan has yet to reveal the damage, if any, to Gerrard, and we should cope without him. That is, the players need to come up with more resolve, more enterprise and bring their football to a sharper level to compensate. And they can. Now is the time, with the domestic cups now gone. They are for another season, the title and the Champions League are our concern. In terms of a team built for all competitions, we are not. But we don't want that now, we want the title. The title, we can definitely go for.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article Redsman. My earlier article was titled "Is Rafa ruining Liverpool" and I believe he is.

In a few years time, the likes of Gerrard and Carragher will be nearing the end of their careers and it would be disastrous if they never ended up with winning the league.

I'll be honest - I don't care about the FA Cup but please don't let Liverpool's victory over Chelsea suggest that they are back in form and will push Man Utd all the way. Remember, Liverpool were only a few minutes away from drawing that game.

Let's see what happens this Saturday against Pompey. Surely Liverpool will win that one . . .


2/05/2009 1:24 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Yes, exactly. Gerrard and Carragher will be as you said, so we need to bear that in mind. So too should those players. You're correct in saying the FA Cup is not as important as the title and CL, and we should look to Saturday. Positively.


2/05/2009 1:27 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

NGOG has plenty of international experience????

2/05/2009 1:27 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Counter it, then, Anon (1.27PM), instead of leaving it hanging.


2/05/2009 1:29 pm

Blogger T said...

From an outsiders perspective, it looks to me that Rafa has scored a few own goals to hurt his and the Liverpool cause.

First was dropping Keane back to the bench and then out of the squad after two very good performances against Arsenal and Bolton. For me this was terrible man-management... and I wonder if there has been a ripple effect of disappointment by some of the players at Keane's treatment by Benitez.

Second was his pointless rant at Ferguson while he was at the top of the table. When you are at the top you don't need distractions - and that is what he gave his players a day before the game at Stoke. The fact that the players couldn't then beat Stoke compounded the pointlessness - and arguably harm to the Liverpool focus - of the public rant.

Third, and I'm not sure who ultimately decided this (but I presume Rafa was OK with it given that he left him out of the squad a day before), is the decision to have sold Keane the day after a big win against Chelsea. The signal that sends out is terrible for Liverpool: it suggests Liverpool are more interested in recouping some money or Rafa's ego than it is in maintaining strength in your squad to challenge for the title. If I was Ferguson I would interpret it this way and be very happy in telling my squad this.

I'm sure Gerrard for one would have been frustrated by seeing Keane go when effectively he is the first choice cover for Torres. Indeed, if Keane was still at the club he could have played yesterday up-front in place of Gerrard who clearly was showing signs of burn out last week against Wigan. For me Keane is an excellent player and should still be at Liverpool given your position in the league.

So all in all, for me, this has been a bad period of decision-making for Benitez.

2/05/2009 1:50 pm

Blogger Skipper said...

Great article Redsman.

I remember many years ago – when I circulated an e-mail to contributors of this site about Gerrard Houllier after we lost 4-2 to Arsenal in the league. I was pleading with GH to leave our club. I got tired of hearing “we controlled the game; we were unlucky and so on. Rafa does exactly the same “we controlled the game, one mistake, ask the referee and so on”. It’s never Rafa’s fault.

I haven’t quite got to the stage of telling Rafa Beneitez (RB) to leave Liverpool but I am getting close.

RB and GH are very similar in that they are both stubborn and single minded in their approach to dealing with criticisms. Ask any Liverpool fans about Lucas and Dosena and they will tell you “not fit to wear the shirt” Yet RB is so stubborn that he will not listen to the fans.

I agree with T completely and really question RB’s judgement.

He does not like to be positive and go out to win matches. He goes out not lose matches. There is a distinction.

I don’t understand RB’s obsession with playing with a lone striker. Now we don’t have any stickers left, save Torres. If you want to win trophies you need to have at least 3 or 4 good attackers. The reason why Stevie has been suffering from a burn outs is that RB has not been able to rest him.

Who could replace Stevie? No one from the current squad as a supporting striker. However, if Stevie was played in his preferred role of midfield, and we had two up front, then his attacking options would have been much better. I accept that a fit Torres and Stevie is an awesome partnership, but what happens if one gets injured? Even worse, what happens if both get injured? He has turned Kuyt into a defensive winger. So as the only recognised alternative can Kuyt replace either Torres or Stevie? Of course not.

Rafa, if you are reading this, stop being stubborn. Listen to the fans. You can’t play players out of position, put in weak links in the team and then hope to win the league.

We can still end the season on a high, so I hope going out of the cup will prove to be a good thing, I guess only time will tell.

2/05/2009 9:50 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hold on, Rafa wouldnt hurt Liverpool. he is Liverpool through and through, so wouldnt hurt us.

Two games from Keane doesnt mean he deserves to play. Keane has played something like 19 games out of what, 23 so far, yeah ok he may not have started them all but he has had opportunity to score goals from the start of the season. When he missed sitters, ones he would have scored with Spurs, he was said to be a flop at £20m because he was missing sitters. Now everyones saying he didnt get a chance.

good point though that he shouldnt have responded to Fungie the cunt - Rudoplph git couldnt keep his gob shut could he? but its a coincidence we cant get going since after Crimbo.

So Keane goes back so it means we dont want to boost our squad? Rafa hasnt brought in someone else because what he wants idnt available now. Look at Chelsea - Kalou wasnt anyone but he is now he's at Chelsea. Adebayour was no one, van persie was no one so why cant Ngog be someone? He's good, stupid comment asking question about him from someone who doesnt know him.

If keane was so good he should have been making and ascoring goals fromt he start. Keane got the pressure and couldnt cut it long enough. he scores for Spurs dont mean he can do it at higher level. Think we saw more of Keane coming to us than before.

I tell you whats messed us up is that bloody Leiva. Didnt play in the derbies but he's being picked while playing crap. Also we dont have a scoring bit to our football and Stevie has scored most of the goals. Why doesnt he play Babel more, he wants to score for us.

Should Benny go? Well we can pick the team for him so if he cant see it then he should go.

2/06/2009 7:07 am


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