When things do not go well for your club, you can always expect your manager to attempt an explanation. We’re hearing quite a bit from Rafa Benitez at the moment, as he explains Liverpool’s early-season dip in the Premiership and in Europe.
Thus far he’s cited the following causes:
* His player preparation has been interrupted due to international fixtures.
* Players are tired due to fixture congestion in the aftermath of international match-days.
* A loss of confidence.
* Players going off form at the same time.
A simplistic explanation for our poor form, from start to finish, goes like this:
We did not win at ____ because it was too soon to play after the _______qualifiers. Our players were already exhausted, and did not have time to prepare for the match against ____. Their performance showed they had not fully recovered, and some of them were off-form, and as a result, our confidence is down.
Any football fan should be able to agree on the following things:
* That clubs have larger squads to compensate for a team full of internationals.
* Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea will all be affected by players’ absence, some worse than others.
* it is the responsibility of teams to enact measures to aid player recovery, after international matches.
Those three factors can act in unison to minimise the first two of Benitez’s reasonings, if not refute them outright. The remaining two however, a psychological and physiological reaction respectively, are harder to explain away.
Benitez is adamant, however, that rotating players has nothing to do with it. His explanation is reasonable, design a game plan according to the opponent. Unfortunately, this flies in the face of equally sensible ideas about playing your best performing team, letting them learn each other’s game, and not over-thinking tactics, principles adhered to by Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson.
They have developed many players over the years, and in doing so they’ve probably imparted an important lesson to their players: Play well and you keep your place. Or at the very least: You’re only as good as your last game.
Benitez does not subscribe to this theory, our players are acutely aware of it, and suffering. Is it any wonder that a striker can find himself paired with a different partner, and a new combination in midfield to supply them from game to game? He can score goals and still find himself benched, based on a theoretical plan concocted by the boss for the next opponent.
This type of chalkboard tactics does not always work out well in application, no matter how many videos you watch of your opponent, because of two main factors:
* It is tantamount to viewing games in isolation.
* It is playing to counter an opponent, as opposed to imposing your natural style on them.
Considerations like player form do not figure in such thinking, and in that we’re eroding a powerful element – confidence
Forget price tags and reputations. A team that is playing well, comprising a settled midfield and burgeoning partnership in attack, should be allowed to show what it can do against anyone when they’re playing well together. The closest we are in applying that principle is in defence.
Benitez can talk about the bigger picture all he wants, about keeping players fresh for later in the season, but his rhetoric will ring hollow if we continue undermining ourselves and our players.