At the tail end of last season I wrote an article on the enigma that is Ryan Babel. Within the piece I outlined his potential value to our team, a key asset possessing all but consistency. Fast-track six months and precious little has changed. In fact, if anything, our Flying Dutchman has hit a bitter snag in his development.
2008/09 has brought forth the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’. As well as suffering those side-effects, Babel has been hindered by the arrival of Albert Riera. A somewhat divisive signing, the Spanish winger has actually settled with great aplomb, offering craved balance and a touch of class to an already functioning midfield. As a result, Babel has found himself in-and-out of the starting XI, the worst kind of scenario for such a temperamental player.
Always confidence stricken, the former Ajax playmaker yearns for a sense of worth. A sustained run in the side would enhance his self-belief two-fold and perhaps ignite the flair-factor which convinced Rafa Benitez to shell-out Â£11 million for him originally.
A condescending five minutes here and there paves not only to mental detriment but physical conditioning. Form is essential and can only truly be built-up with game-time. Last term Babel was the archetypical impact man but ironically his contribution now dwindles with that tag. Starts not cameos will aid his progress.
For various reasons the business end of the current campaign could belong to Babel. Firstly, the manager seems to have latched-on to the idea of including his maverick more. Recent starts against Wigan and Portsmouth confirm this view. Secondly, ever the cautious type, Benitez may be forced to abandon his reserved methods in favour of a more attack-minded approach as the reds hunt-down the Champions. Too many draws have put paid to our title charge. Such stalemates must be converted to wins if the team is to have any real chance of prizing number nineteen from the clutches of United. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, the Holland international could benefit from Robbie Keane’s sudden departure.
The jury was always and indeed remains out on Keane. To some he was treated callously, shipped-out on a personal vendetta without ever receiving the fairest of cracks at the whip. To others, he had his chance, fell short and a sizable return on the initial sum splashed-out proves wise. My opinion lands somewhere in between.
The Irishman is a top marksman, while his enthusiasm for the cause means he’s instantly likable. Nevertheless, his purchase was never really essential. May I remind Kopites that Steven Gerrard filled the supporting role last year and bagged an impressive 21 goals. For me, Keane was never going to better that tally or realistically match it. Additional reinforcements were a necessity. Examples would be a pair of top-class full-backs who don’t go by the name of Andrea Dossena, as well as a right-winger capable of beating a man and coming within a mile of the bye-line.
Liverpool could give or take Keane either way. The fact is the arrangement never worked-out and the club must be applauded for pinpointing that home-truth and acting swiftly.
As aforementioned however, Babel could emerge as the main beneficiary. Signed, primarily, as a striker, perhaps Rafa will revert to base on that front and utilise him in a more central berth. Could it work? Why not? The raw attributes are in abundance.
Frightening pace, silky skills and a ferocious shot (no, this is not a copy and paste job from last May’s article) are lethal combinations. Admittedly that first-touch leaves a little to be desired at present, resembling the finesse of an Octopus. But in time, one would hope, that will be honed accordingly.
Greater willingness to track back must also be programmed. It’s no coincidence that Benitez, a defensive minded coach, opts for work-horses on the flanks. Kuyt and Riera are of the mould that tracs back to guard their turf as well as surge up-field. Failure to compromise will hasten the inevitable bombing-out process, just ask Mark Gonzales, Harry Kewell and Jermaine Pennant.
Having said that, he did bag an impressive eleven goals last term and also figured in crunch fixtures like the two Inter bouts.
For all the efficiency in the world Liverpool lack match-winners, that unique quality which can turn a drab encounter in a split second. Messers Gerrard and Torres cannot sparkle every game; there will be those occasions when both give tranquil showings. This is why we must persevere with the inconsistent Babel. His explosive characteristics may prove invaluable for the tight run-in.
To be frank we cannot afford anymore results like those against Stoke, Wigan, West Ham and Everton. It is time to loosen the shackles and go on the offensive, a ploy where Babel could come into his own. If the club wants to defend its proud status as the country’s number one it needs to, as the chant goes – ‘Attack, Attack, Attack’. An in-form Babel would boost the likelihood of that onslaught paying dividends.
A brief note on current affairs; The trio of clashes with Everton proved rather mundane and horridly frustrating. It may be painful to accept but the fact is the bluenoses are terrifically organised and we suffered from a lack of imagination, particularly in the final encounter where the team seemed to lose belief and idea once the skipper was withdrawn.
It has been a month of contentious decisions from the boss but one all would surely appreciate is the inclusion of Sami Hyypia in the Champions’ League squad. Excluding the inspirational Finn initially was totally misguided, especially when considering certain additions. On that theme, Philipp Degen has made-way (insert your own gag).
And finally, home games will never seem quite the same without the accompanying vocals of Phil Easton. Along with George ‘the voice’ Sephton, Easton was responsible for all match-day announcements at Anfield. He passed away last Monday. RIP.