This is a marathon not a sprint.
After witnessing Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side conducting a rather frightening opening day performance It seems very relevant to bear one thing in mind. There are still another 37 games to go. As the good book say’s in big bright friendly letters, the good book being The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Don’t Panic!
After all this is a side, minus some notable departures, that led an almighty charge for the Premier League title last season only to fall toward the last hurdle. A good side doesn’t turn bad this quickly but there are a few things the club could do to improve it’s fortunes.
It’s time the boss instilled a more attacking ethos. Yes I know we scored 100+ goals last term across all competitions and I know that we get far too much stick from those who believe we don’t play the same level of attractive football as some sides but it does seem that a good majority of the players we posses the initial instinct when receiving the ball is to go backwards, to play cautiously. Now there is nothing wrong with that mentality if your three goals up or perhaps if you’re away at another of our top four competitors but in general terms it would be far more productive if some of our players pushed forward with more vigour.
I believe Rafa is well aware of this mentality and hence his purchasing of Glen Johnson who’s forward running led to our penalty at White Hart Lane, something Alvaro Arbeloa could only dream of achieving. It this mode of thought that will always stop Lucas from being anywhere near the player Xabi Alonso was for the club. The Brazilian all to often looks for a sideways pass and even a player as advanced as Dirk Kuyt tends to opt for a ball back to keep possession over a slightly more dangerous offensive gesture.
A player who will be key to the coming weeks is Yossi Benayoun. The Israeli has spent two seasons patiently waiting for his chance to get a spot in the team that didn’t come because of another’s injury and he showed in his short stint on Sunday that he is more than ready to be charged with the responsibility of a longer run in the team. It’s back to the drawing board with Ryan Babel in my view and the club may well just have to accept the Dutchman is a far more reliable weapon when coming off the bench because 95% of the games he starts he ends up leaving Liverpool fans wanting to tear their hair out!
The defence could also really benefit from a left back acquisition, one that could make the back four a complete and solid unit. In that manner the left side slot is the only real weakness as the rest of the back line (when fit) along with the excellent Pepe Reina behind them, is one of the best in Europe. So who could they bring in to do that job, well I think Gabriel Heinze would have been the perfect man for the job but he’s already moved to Marseille. Emiliano Insua is still too raw in my view and needs more time to grow.
Lastly we come to the issue of Fernando Torres and whether he needs support or if he works best as the lone striker. Well the answer to that question rests firmly on Steven Gerrard’s shoulders. If the Captain has a good game, which he does most of the time, then El Nino will do likewise. Without the adequate support coming from the attacking midfielders the Spaniard is always going to struggle and Rafa can either take this for granted and accept that on occasion this dynamic will not work and leave it as is.
The danger of this tactical approach is of course if Torres gets injured. It’s an undeniable fact, and one that I myself as a Liverpool fan just had to admit, that if out injured for a decent portion of the season we are screwed. It’s a fact, and not a comforting one at that.
Some will argue that if a big time player is out injured at any club the damage will felt just as equally but I would have to disagree. Sure if United lost Rooney (we can pray) they would be in trouble but I don’t think it would have a huge effect. If Arsenal lost Cesc Fabregas that too would have enormous repercussions but only in terms of the grandeur of the player not in the level of replacements on offer. What Rafa really needs to do, and it seems to obvious to most of the fans, is simply buy a decent back up striker. The only alternatives right now on offer would come in the form of Dirk Kuyt, who has proven a far more effective right sided player than an out and out striker, and Ryan Babel, who in my view can’t handle the striker role just yet, but could in the future do well in that role.
So whilst the performance at White Hart Lane was poor there is no need for anyone to start penning suicide notes to their loved ones. Things will get better but there is no need for drastic change. If it’s not broken it doesn’t need to be fixed. We are nearer than ever to ending this horrible league title hoodoo so cheer up and like myself, cheer the lads on with all your heart on Wednesday.
In Rafa we trust.