A question I’ve been asking myself almost on a daily basis lately is whether Rafa Benitez is the right man for Liverpool or not. The result against Besiktas this week has me further concerned. I don’t feel good about this and in fact when I think about the success Rafa has brought to our club I feel a little ashamed.
I am fully aware that we remain unbeaten in the Premiership and we have had our best start to a season in many years and yet I still have a horrible feeling in my stomach that this is going to be another heartbreaking season. The real time to be judging Rafa will be next May but at this moment it is hard to not be worried.
I am genuinely concerned that we may get destroyed by Arsenal on Sunday. The Gunners have been in hot form and if they were to beat us they will go nine points clear. I really believe that if that was to happen it would be too much of a gap to make up. At the same time if we were to win on Sunday the gap will suddenly be reduced to just three points and that will certainly have us smiling again.
Rafa has always made baffling substitutions and in the past they’ve usually worked out for the best. The replacing of Steven Gerrard with Lucas Leiva in the derby was certainly a head scratcher. Fortunately it turned out well with Lucas having the goalbound shot that was handled for the winning penalty. Rafa’s explanation after the game that he took Gerrard off for showing ‘œtoo much passion’ was pretty embarrassing. How can showing passion in a derby be a bad thing? Was Rafa concerned that Stevie would get himself sent off? I would be extremely worried if Stevie wasn’t showing passion and in fact before he came off I thought he was playing better than he has since he got injured. Fortunately it doesn’t appear to have affected his confidence as he played well against Besiktas and is starting to look himself again. The passion comments from Rafa reminded me of some of the ridiculous comments Houllier used to make to the press.
It really annoys me the way that Rafa waits too long to make changes even though it’s clear that certain players aren’t having good games. In some recent games Rafa’s stubbornness with substitutions seems to have been costly at times. The way that Peter Crouch remained on the bench for so long against Besiktas reminded me of the 2007 Champions League Final. That was another game in which we looked more likely to score when Crouch was on but unfortunately he was introduced too late. In both of those games we all knew that Crouch needed to be on the pitch as early as half time but Rafa waited until near the end when it was too late. So far this season Crouch has just been completely shafted.
I have no idea what he has done wrong and am wondering why he hasn’t even started a game when Torres is injured. Kuyt and Voronin are both great players but I think that they are a little bit too similar to play together. Both players are great grafters who will battle and win the ball but don’t stay in the box enough to get on the end of things. Crouch was our top scorer with eighteen goals last season, including seven in the Champions League. On top of this he was also on a scoring frenzy for England too, he was playing better than ever before. His heading was improving, he looked confidant and was scoring goals that seemed unbelievable for a player of his height. The two overhead kicks against Galatasaray and Bolton and the hat-trick against Arsenal stand out as real highlights from last season.
Since Torres and Voronin have signed it seems that Rafa no longer fancies playing Crouch any more and he’s only started one league game so far this season. The problem with all this is that Crouch is a confidence player and if one of the other strikers were struck down with a serious injury I’d be worried about throwing Crouch in if he hadn’t been playing. How is he to maintain any match fitness for the games we do need him in? I’ve no doubt he will play against Cardiff City in the League Cup next week, maybe he will start against Arsenal but I doubt it as Torres should be back.
I don’t want to get too involved in dealing with the whole rotation policy. Rafa has been doing it for years with plenty of success, with Liverpool and Valencia. He also isn’t the first Liverpool manager to use this system either as I remember Kenny Dalglish using it during the 1985/86 season. I understand why Rafa uses it and to a certain extent I completely agree with it. Sometimes however, I do believe that he goes way over the top with his tinkering of the side. In the modern game there is no way that players can play all of the time but to change the side every single game can be too often. A player can be fantastic in one game but still can’t be certain of keeping his place. This is the sort of thing that can be a reason for damaging confidence in a player and that can spread. Rafa is also widely known for not forming personal relationships with players, Gerrard for one is a player who needs patting on the back and positive messages. In my opinion it is this lack of a human touch from Rafa combined with the constant changes to the line-up that are big reasons for the recent lack of confidence in the side.
As I said earlier if we beat Arsenal on Sunday then things will look a lot better. We still have a chance of advancing in the Champions League too. Things do look very bleak at the moment but our next two games in Europe are at home and if we win them we will be going to Marseille hopefully full of confidence. In the meantime the Reds have a huge point to prove this Sunday and if they can turn on the form from earlier in the season they can beat anybody. Let’s hope that the dramatic win in the derby provides the catalyst to start winning league games again and that the Besiktas game was merely a blip as we continue the great start we’ve made domestically.