Three years into Rafa’s reign, I think it’s safe to say that most Liverpool fans would give a resounding ‘˜thumbs up’ to our manager. A European Cup, an FA cup, two consecutive top three finishes, and European Cup runners up. It’s a record most clubs in Europe, never mind England, would bite your hand off for.
But Liverpool is not ‘˜most clubs’ ‘“ we are Liverpool. The club that was built up and up into a Bastion of Invincibility. A club that virtually conquered the bloody world. No-one could beat us. I doubt a team from Mars could have either.
The 21st century has been very good to us so far. We’ve also enjoyed a treble, the odd Super Cup and other finals in the last seven years. But one irritating fact remains’¦.it’s been 17 years.
There have been many false dawns’¦ too many. Gerard Houllier peaked at number two but could take us no further. Many potentially exciting signings came, and after failing to ignite the fuse, went. They now ply their trade at Wigan and Bolton and the like.
In came Rafa. A man who’d managed the impossible in Spain was ready to take on the ultimate challenge’¦ to put Liverpool back where they belong. He did so by conquering Europe, but as yet, he’s still to conquer England.
What Rafa has achieved in terms of team strength, is impressive. We now have a goalkeeper up with the best in England. We have a defence which is breached as infrequently as any in the Premier League. We have a central midfield envied throughout Europe, and with strength in depth to boot.
What this has done, is made Liverpool very difficult to break down and difficult to beat. But it’s the final jigsaw pieces that complete the puzzle. With the signings of Torres, Babel, Banayoun and Voronin plus the positive signals from Pennant and Kewell, there’s a quiet optimism that we may just have them.
The squad is undoubtedly the strongest we’ve had for years. Liverpool fans are incredibly knowledgeable, and we all knew, begrudgingly, that players of the calibre of Traore, Biscan, Nunez, Josemi, Zenden and Bellamy were not title winning material and simply had to be moved on and replaced with quality. They have been.
If I was to criticise Rafa in any way (ok, I’m going to, but bear with me!) I have two major concerns. While a rotation policy is workable with the right squad, it fails when you rotate quality with inferiority. Unfortunately, due to the squad he inherited, and the fact that you can’t rebuild Rome in a day, he was forced to do just that. In any chain, a couple of weak links and it will fail. The good news, is that with the current quality within the squad, rotation should not have the negative impact it’s been seen to have over the last couple of seasons, so my first ‘˜concern’ should be far less of an issue now that we can replace quality with equivalent quality.
That leads me to the point of this article. My one major concern left, is Rafa’s inherent tendency for caution. Too often, against clearly inferior teams, he tends to approach games with far too a high degree of caution. Whether it be a line up of 4-5-1, or a team top loaded with defensive minded players, we’ve dropped far too many points, and lost far too many games, by showing inferior opposition far too much respect. This is almost exclusively true when playing away from home. Those same players and teams who have derailed our title challenge at grounds like the Riverside, Bramall Lane and the Valley, are routinely dispatched without breaking sweat at Anfield.
The reason is simple. At Anfield, the shackles are off. He sends out a team to attack, and the result is routinely the same. We win ‘“ almost always. So while we end up with one of the best home records in the country, our away form just about gets us in the top 6 or 7.
The difference in home and away form is quite amazing!
If you look at last season’s table, using only home form, Liverpool won 14 of their 19 games. We gathered 46 points at home and scored 39 goals. On home form alone, we would have finished in 2nd place, a single point behind Man United and 3 points ahead of Chelsea! Only United and Arsenal outscored us at home, by 7 and 4 goals respectively.
But then there’s the away form!! A pathetic six wins and an even more pathetic 18 goals scored in 19 games. We ended the season with a ‘“2 goal difference away from home versus a whopping +32 at home. Looking at away form only, we finished 20 points behind United, 18 behind Chelsea, and 4 behind Arsenal. United outscored us by 19 goals, more than doubling our tally.We finished just 3 points better off than Wigan’¦ who finished 4th from bottom of the league!
So how can a team capable of home form equal to the eventual champions, be so poor on the road? In my humble opinion, it’s to do with a far too cautious approach, as I mention above.
Home or away a pitch is a pitch, a ball is a ball, and the opposition do not get technically any better just because they’re playing on their own ground. Indeed, the fact that they actually come out and give it a go at home, should mean that we beat them fair and square on ability alone, exploiting the fact that they dare attack us. But we don’t! We line up with caution, play with caution, and try to sneak wins’¦ and it doesn’t work. I hate to say it, but it’s contrary to the philosophy that the mancs and Chelsea adopt.. and it works for them. While we won 6 away games, they won 13 and 12 respectively. United won only 2 less away than they did at home. Chelsea won exactly the same number, home and away. Amongst those who outscored us away from home were’¦ wait for it’¦. Wigan, Fulham and Man City!!
So come on Rafa, let the shackles off! You’ve bought the players to take our attack to the next level, but you need to let them express themselves in a line up designed to attack and win. I can understand caution against the other 3 top teams, where a more European approach can pay dividends, but against the rest? The fact is, we’re superior to every other team, and we need to approach these away games with that mindset.
If we do, I can honestly see number 19 coming home.
But if we don’t, we may win the ‘˜home form’ league title, but we’ll remain miles behind when results from all 38 games reveal the final league table.
My vote is to go for option number one!
Apologies to anyone who tried to email Alex on the email address we posted last week, this one now works!