Rafa getting his message across

Newcastle 1-3 Liverpool

When the teams were announced for Sunday’s match at Newcastle it left many fans and pundits wondering exactly how Liverpool would be lining up – Carragher, Hyypia and Agger all in the side, along with Kromkamp and Warnock.

Would it be foolish to gamble and change from the solid back four system which has been so efficient in keeping more clean sheets than any other Premiership side this season?

At first many thought that it would Carra lining up at right back, with Kromkamp right midfield like he had the week before, without much success, at Highbury. Instead though Rafa changed the system to three at the back with Warnock and Kromkamp as wing backs.

This system gives me nightmares and revives memories of the likes of Harkness, Ruddock, Babb, Scales all failing to adopt to it under Roy Evans in the 90’s. But today it worked – albeit for a few shaky moments when Pepe Reina was more reluctant to come off his line than usual.

However, a year ago in this exact same fixture Benitez had tried this system and failed miserably. Back then it was Pellergino who occupied the left of the three at the back and Baros who lead the line alone. Today it was Agger who impressed with his cool distribution and linked up well with Warnock down the left.

Warnock found plenty of space in the first half and caused Newcastle problems, it is a position he occupied to great effect whilst on loan at Coventry a few seasons ago and no doubt that stood him in good stead.

Agger again showed his Hansen-esque style, midway through the first half he carried the ball out of defence and set-up a good attack, and spraying good passes out wide with his left foot. He looks to have been a great signing and in particular when compared to the man who allegedly Rafa was also interested – Vidic who went to United and cost a few million more!

Benitez whilst with Valencia used a system similar to today’s in the final third – with a lone big forward (Carew) and two attacking midfielders (Aimar and Baraja) just off him – Crouch being the man up front and Kewell and Cisse in behind left and right respectively. Leaving Gerrard and Hamann to occupy the centre of the field and dominate the match.

More than anything the use of the different system proves Benitez is getting his different styles across to the players – this can’t be something he has worked with them on in just two days, more over a period of time ready to use when he wanted.

It also shows Benitez is getting his players in who can play in different systems – Crouch as opposed to Baros, Kromkamp is a ‘natural’ wing back, Agger is comfortbable on the ball.

I don’t imagine this system will be used more often than not, certainly not in relation to the defensive area but possibly in attack later during the Rafa-lution (one man up front with two quick and creative wide players).

One criticism of previous managers – and others in the Premiership (Wenger for instance) – is that they don’t have a ‘plan B’ but evidence is that certainly isn’t a problem with Benitez at the helm, and he isn’t afraid to mix things up.

The future certainly looks bright under Benitez….

Matt Ladson

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