Forum Focus: Rotation Debate

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Geebo takes an in-depth look at the thought’s of the forum throughout the season on the controversial subject of rotation. This forum focus takes one thread from back in October, another from November and the latest last week.

93 Games of Rotation (10th Oct 2006)
Author: Red under the bed

Red under the bed writes:

It’s an interesting statistic but as Rafa rightly points out during those 93 games we have won the Champions League, the FA Cup, Super Cup and Community Shield so it must work!!!
I don’t think rotation is the problem but the strength of our squad which has proved to be much less than the strength of our first 11-13 players. As Rafa improves the quality of squad players, which he has done and continues to do, his rotation policy will have fewer obvious setbacks.

Wolf writes:
Some of the lads who have an issue with rafa’s rotation policy.
Playing 3 games back to back in a week is TOUGH. You just lose your efficiency, speed and endurance by the 2nd game…and imagine how much you lose by the 3rd game. You just dont have enough time for the body to recover and the big big danger of injury.

I respect and wholly understand why Rafa has a rotation policy. It is far more productive to have a fresh player playing than a player who has played a tough midweek/weekend match because the statistics as far as fitness, stamina and endurance will always favour the fresher player. It all comes down to science, especially if you have a ready replacement for that particular position.

Having said that, it is also good if you have a side that isnt changed too often as we have seen with our first 11’s…players get used to playing with each other and builds confidence and better game play understanding. Having said that, looking at tonights match vs Gala, you would think the lads had been playing with each other for more than a season….

Bitterbluehater responds:
In the good `ol days, when a player ” lost ” his place through injury ( the only time players got replaced in them days ), then the player replacing him would make a comment along the lines of, ” I`ll make it really hard for ********** to get his place back, i want this place for myself. ”
Yes in them days players had to FIGHT for the right to a starting place in the team. Now there is no reason to fight, because they KNOW they`ll soon be back due to the rotation.

Rafa, DROP THE ROTATION.

MoFo writes:
But Rafa has always rotated his team. He did at Valencia, he has done at Liverpool. He has won La Liga (x2), Spanish Cup, Champs League, Super Cup (x2), Fa Cup, Community Shield and we have got to the League Cup and World Club Championship Finals. Not bad for a manger who rotates his squad alot.

Rotation as Hansen says, is only a problem when the team is struggling. If the team is winning, then it is seen as great management. Like you have said rotation is essential now in football and it should be done at the right place in the right time. But it is a high risk strategy and can make a manager look foolish or great. It is one of the reason why Rafa thinks we won the Champs League in his first season. It was also another reason why his teams look fitter from January onwards compared to the challengers. We saw this last season where we played numerous games (given Champs League qualification and WCC)… but we still looked the fittest team around and went on another great run. Benitez also says it was one of the main reasons why his Valencia team won the La Liga championships.

I personally think Rafa can make too many changes at times. For example one game this season he made 8 changes. But I do think 2 or 3 changes can mean the players stay fresh, as well as keeping cohesion and structured. But if the players were on form… I don’t think rotation would be as much as an issue.
I think we are having a poor start because of the amount of change we have made in the summer, not because of rotation. Rotation is a high risk strategy… as Hansen says, it is only a problem when you are losing. If you are winning it is seen as good management.

Last season we also made numerous changes in the summer and it took awhile for things to gel and I think the same will happen again this season. It has taken this long for Rafa to get rid of Houiller’s flops… and one or two of his own. We might have taken one step back so far, but in the long term I think we will reap the rewards getting rid of one dimensional players such as Cisse and buying better all round footballers like Bellamy. The players we signed are young, hungry and talented… we just need to be patient.

Benitez used rotation through his management, with great success… he must be doing something right. I think whether Rafa used rotation or played the same team week in, week out… it wouldn’t make too much difference. The new players need time to settle and the more established players need some form (Gerrard etc).

But, opposition was not far away….

A KISS for Rafael Benitez (21st Nov 2006)
Author: GBH

GBH writes:

How many of you have heard the old phrase KISS – Keep it simple, stupid! That’s all he needs to do. Keep it simple, play his best 11 and best formation consistently. Only make changes when they are forced and work to his teams best strengths.
I think we would have had a different season had he got his way and signed Daniel Alves because he would be on the right with Finnan behind him. This would have then meant that the centre of midfield would have rotated as required. As this has not happened Rafa is still trying to meddle around with the team with a terrible effect.
In January we are likely to see Lucas Neill join us to provide some cover and competition but I believe that Rafa’s real hope is that Moores and Parry fcuk off to leave him with enough money to sign Alves and one or two others. Until then he needs to keep it simple!

Liverpoolway88 writes:
Yeah, i’ve heard of KISS before. Seems like a good idea. Play your best 11 you’re bound to come up with the results right? I agree with GBH in a sense, yet i still believe rotation has its merits. That said, it couldn’t hurt to play the same team for a few games in a row to see how they gel. Barring injury this should work. However, Rafa does ask to be judged on the end of season performance, rotation has its good points, most of which are evident towards the end of the season as the big players from rival clubs become tired and not able to perform to 100% capabilty. It should be interesting to see what Rafa does if our poor away form continues… if he sticks with his rotation or abandons, at least temporarily, until we return some postive results away from Anfield.

HBH wrote:
I am in favour of rotation but at certain times. There is no denying that football has changed enormously from the days when we won the league with 14 players. The game is faster than ever and rotation has its benefits in keeping players fresh when the games are coming thick and fast towards the end of the season and there’s only a few days for rest.

However, as I’ve said before, no individual at the club is above constructive criticism and Benitez must take some for the poor results we’ve had away from home this year. As I said, I’m in favour of rotation but there is a time and a place for it but to employ it this early in the season has cost a chance of challenging for the title. At this stage, the best 11 should start with your fringe players getting a look in around the busy Christmas period.

As I’ve said, there is no point in having all your players fresh at the end of the season when you’re x amount of points away from the league leaders. I think come the end of the season, Rafa will have to have another look at how he has employed this policy.

Tettehsrafalution writes:
All of the above arguments make perfect sense EXCEPT FOR THE HUGE assumption that had he not rotated we would have won those games or not lost.
You are assuming that our best 11 would have beaten Utd, Chelsea (we fielded our best 11 against chelsea and still lost, by the way), and arsenal. This could be argued AD NAUSEUM (and it already has been!), just as all ‘WHAT IF’ arguments end in futile castles in the sky imaginings.
The facts are – Rafa picked a team, and against Everton, ManUre and theArse, THAT TEAM PLAYED LIKE SHIT. The big players were there – Carra, Xabi and Gerrard, and they all played like shit. Rafa rotated fringe and new players for those matches, Fowler, Garcia, Gonzo, Pennant and Bellamy – BUT IF THE BIG PLAYERS PLAYED LIKE SHIT AND WE LOST, WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT HAD HE NOT CHANGED THESE OTHER TEAM PLAYERS, WE’D HAVE WON??
We lost because the players that are normally reliable (Reina and Carra vs Everton, Gerrard and Xabi vs ManUre, and THE WHOLE BLOODY TEAM vs Arsenal) played like shit!!

To use Rafa’s rotation as the simple problem is a reduxio ad absurdium. It is ridiculous to suggest that had we been playing the same team when possible, we wouldn’t have suffered the same away form hoodoo that we have consistently been suffering from over the past few seasons. There are deeper issues, more complicated and perhaps psychological issues at play here, AND A FEW SIMPLE ONES LIKE THE TEAM NEEDING TIME TO GEL AND OUR OWN INFLATED EXPECTATIONS OF COMPETING WITH UTD, CHELSKI AND ARSENAL RESULTING IN OUR DISAPPOINTMENT.
The TV pundits have to find ONE simple problem to talk about, and they have invariably taken the easy road and blamed Rafa’s rotation. I expect more insight from the supposedly knowledgeable fans on here. Perhaps my own expectations of our fans’ insight is over-inflated, but it is stupendous to think fixing the rotation “problem” will result in a sudden change in form.
The KISS principle when applied to PLAYING football out on the pitch makes perfect sense. Do the simple passes, make the simple runs and the game is a simple pass and move system that can work to perfection. But there is also such a thing as OVER-SIMPLIFICATION – especially in hind-sight when trying to figure out what is going wrong. And that’s what the supposed TV pundits and many of you lot are guilty of in ascribing all our failings and poor results to Rafa’s rotation policy.

Gothic red writes:
When questioned by reporters asking what team he’ll be playing one week, a great man (and a great manager to boot) once said “the same as last week son, and the week before that”. That man was Bill Shankly.

But that was then. In Shankly’s days squads didn’t need to have 25-30 players. You didn’t need 2 or 3 players for every position. You didn’t play 2 or 3 games a week. And you certainly didn’t play 60 games a season. In Shankly’s days you didn’t have the luxury to rest players. But in Shankly’s days, you didn’t need to.

But times have changed. We are 40 years down the line and the game has moved on considerably. These days you need 25-30 players. You do play 60 games a season and you need 2 players for every position.

Like tettehsrafalution says, the rotation is part and parcel of todays game. It’s needed to keep our best players fit over the course of what is now a very long season. For people to take the easy road and use rotation as an answer for our poor away form is just taking the easy option and making excuses – not analysing the problem with any real logic.

Rafa’s had his problems this season, but because like geebo says above, he hasn’t come out moaning and whining about it – he’s just dug in and quietly got on with the task at hand, many of the media and even some people on here have gone on a witch hunt.
A witch hunt? What do you mean? I can hear the shouts now. What do I mean? Simple. The media have constantly banged on about Rafa’s rotation policy this season, as if they had nothing else to write about. And if it wasn’t that it was all about Rafa using Gerrard in the wrong position. the season is 3 or 4 months old now, and we’ve heard practically nothing else all season so far.
Even on here – one thread was calling for Rafa’s head “Time for Rafa to take the blame” was it’s title I believe. Now if that’s not starting a witch hunt…….
Lets just leave the man alone, let him get on with his job, stop hassling him, stop blaming rotation and we might, just might, see some better performances from the team over the coming months.

Now, in late January, sitting pretty in third place and top of the form league, the question surfaces again.

A message to Rafa (26th Jan 2007)
Author: GBH

GBH writes:

Rafa,
When you have Sissoko back and when Insua etc are available please don’t start rotating your team again unless you are FORCED to.
Learn from your early season monumental mistakes and keep it simple.
Just think where we would be if you hadn’t meddled so much!

Tettehsrafalution writes:

To GBH:
Rafa did rotate the squad more than any of us would have liked, but I think Jimmy case is right in that the reason for our poor early season form was more to do with other factors (new players settling in, old players off form, bad luck etc.) than a result of the team changing.

Rafa needed to find a winning formula in the face of the following challenges:

Pennant struggling to find any sort of decent form.
Bellamy not yet settled.
No settled left winger.
Dodgy defending.
Slow Hyppia.
Momo, Xabi and Gerrard all strong players he’d like to use.

In the end, Gerrard’s form returned, Xavi’s inconsistency disappeared, Carra stopped slipping up and fumbling, Pennant has improved greatly, and although Gonzo and Aurelio were injured, Riise has improved to strengthen us on the left and with Aurelio back our left side is looking stronger.
I believe, if Rafa had gotten his men last summer (Simao and Alves) we’d be playing 3-5-2 mostly and 4-4-2 occasionally. He didn’t get his men and he had to swap and change while trying to get results while allowing the team to gel.

Mus2fa writes:
I don’t believe our poor results at the start of the season were anything to do with rotation. The main reason for our poor start was that our fixture list was very difficult. Think of it like this, what if we had played the last 9 games that we’ve just played at the start of the season instead? Would we still have had such a poor start? I don’t think so.
We also had many new players who had to fit in. Agger, Kuyt, Bellamy, Pennant, Aurelio, and Gonzalez. Some teams have trouble fitting in one or two players. We had to try and fit in SIX! Sure Bellamy and Pennant have played in the Premiership before but it still takes time to get used to playing alongside new players. And the foreign players had to settle into a new country as well get used to the pace of the Premiership.

And let’s not forget that most of our players haven’t had a proper rest since the 04/05 season. After winning the Champions League we had to start playing our qualifying matches for the next season almost straight away. And then after another long season in which we won the FA Cup the players had to go to the World Cup. And then they had to come back and start playing more or less straight away again. That can take it’s toll on players.
I actually believe that Rafa’s rotation has helped rather than hindered us this season. If he had carried on playing our strongest players they would have all been suffering from exhaustion by now and we would probably now have been playing with just our squad. By rotating the players Rafa has made sure our players stay fresh and that is beginning to show now when it really matters.

Rafa doesn’t rotate players just for the hell of keeping them fit. He always puts out a team who he thinks will beat the opposition. I agree wholeheartedly with his rotation policy.

Geebo writes:
Rotation is red herring.. or a blue kipper!

I dont think it is so simple a subject as to reduce it to “Rafa shouldnt use rotation.” I think there are too many other factors.

What is rotation?
It’s having 24 players, two for each position, that can come in and out for each other. And that can also adapt to slightly different playing styles depending on whether we play Wigan at home or Barca away etc.

Why do we need Rotation?
There are so many games these days for clubs in the CL that it is impossible to do well in four competitions with just a traditional 18 man squad. Players tired, they get injured and they lose form. A small squad cannot cope with these problems. Rotation can. Rotation is now practised by every club in the CL. Ayn club in England who had enough money and wanted to build a top four team would need a 24 man squad.

Is this the only reason?
No ! For Rafa, this is not a handicap, but the chance to adjust your team slightly to fit the opposition and counter their strengths and expliot their weaknesses. For example, it might be that against Bolton, you need steel in the midfield and so Momo would be the first name on the sheet. Against Everton, the big derby, you want Gerrard in the middle. If you are playing Reading or Wigan you may opt for Alonso and Gerrard because they offer the best pasing game to unlock the defensive opponents who wont be threatening us so much that we need Momo before our defence.

For me, having a 24 man squad makes us more flexible to adjust to the weaknesses of our opponents. If we need a compact midfield we play Gerrard on the right. If the opposition have weak centre halves then Crouchie plays and wins the all the headers and feeds the second striker. On the left wing we can opt for the more defensive Riise or Aurelio or the classic winger Gonzales.
Again, this for me is modern football. A seamless web of 24 players who can be interchanged to give the team different strengths and different styles against different opposition.

What actually went wrong at the beginning of the season?

Was it rotation? was it injury? was it loss of form? Was it a hard away program? was it new signings ?
I would say all of these things are to blame, but not for obvious reasons.

Rafa was faced with problems in the early season. Carra, Finnan, Warnock, Riise and Aurelio were all injured. He had to adjust the defence a lot through injury. For example, Aurelio had play twice on the wing and in his third game he was left back against Everton. That was a very hard game for someone to play who had just arrived from Spain, but Rafa had no option through injuires. I would say this more than anything effected our defence.

Another factor was loss of form, or the world cup blues. Carra, Gerrard, reina and Alonos suffered from this along with other players in the prem. But for us, our backbone was not functioning well. You can blame the newbies like Aurelio, Gonzo or Pennant for not delivering. But, it is a fact that new players need the comfort of a good functioning team to bloom. I would argue they had to wait til the world cup players found their form before they could find their place in the team.

The other factor is new signings. Ideally Rafa would have liked to bring them in slowly. Just as he is doing with Agger. You can call that rotation when he is interchanged with Hyypia, but I would call it seamless blending. No one notices the change because he has been schooled and had time to adjust to the Rafa mentality. For Aurelio and Pennant it was not so. We can go back to the squad Rafa inherited from Houllier. He has had to rebuild it totally. Rafa is not someone to moan. He has the squad he has and has to get on with the job and I admire him for that. But if he did, he would probably say that he he couldnt buy 24 new players in the first season. He worked on the defence first, then the midfield then the attack. The fact we never had a proper right winger was really down to the fact we had other more pressing positions to fill, and bad luck in the transfer market and being priced out of other players.
And so, we arrive at the new season and Rafa doesnt have enough time to allow Aurelio and Pennant the slow passage into the team. He has no option but to throw them in. They struggle because the backbone it in form loss an the consequences are known. Rafa reverted to Gerrard on the wing. Riise came back from injury to play on the left… Now, a few months on Pennant and Aurelio are starting to show why Rafa bought them. The backbone is functioning again, they are playing in a settled team and they are looking integrated. There are no magic potions to speed up this process. It is so. But blaming Rafa and Rotation for this is too easy and too simple.

Next on the list is the fixture list. We were done over. This was a stitch up. Tell me what you like but someone down south engineered that. I would say that our squad, with our new buys, with our injuries, had a hard job and was unlucky to lose. We deserved a draw at Chelsea, we should have beatem Everton and Bolotn were again playing rugby. We just didnt have the luck.

And finally the subject of rotation. Did he? Well, I would say actually he didnt rotate !!!! Id say he rotated as much as Moanio or Fergie or Whinger has done this season. I would say he adjusted the team sligghtly (as he still does) to fit the opposition. I think the Agger Hyypia example may be called rotation but it doesnt account for the teams early form. I think Gerrard having to play of the right because Pennant needed time to settle may have had more of an effect. But the choice of the Capt, Alonso or Momo in midfield didnt effect our results. It is a choice every top manager has to perm two from three central midfielder. And the choice usually depends on the opposition and your tactics against them. Did Rafa get the tactics wrong? No, I dont think so. If he did we would have lost more convincingly in those away games, and we didnt, we actually played relatively well.
The strike forece is the same. Does rotating Crouch, Kuyt and Bellamy affect our form? Id say no. I think the Chelseki win showed that when you chose a team to exploit the oppositions weakness you win. that is what Rafa did.
In conclusion Id say that the subtle changes we can make in midfield, attack and defence do not harm the teams form: Injury, Form and tiredness do. Blending new players in too quickly does. I would say we were victims of our own selfish desire to see Liverpool finally win the title again and we blinded ourdselves to think this would happen. Fact is, the above factors mean it wasnht to be this year, BUT, no other trainer could have got any more out of this team under these circumstances. That I DO believe… and so the return of Momo looms, and I think “brilliant” the new Kaiser is back. The steel of our team. Our “Makelele” is back. He will be seamlessly wove back into the team as Agger has been, as Aurelio and Pennant are now, and we will have a very important added asset in our assault on second place….but to say he represents a problem: I think that was media talk at the start of the season. Chelski talk, I think it was a blue kipper, but whats more, for me it is just a red herring.

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