Lucky escape, but questions remain

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Despite the luckly, lucky derby victory, there are certain questions which must be asked of Rafa Benitez, his tactics and in particular his team selection and substitutions.

Let me begin by saying I have been a huge ‘fan’ of Benitez since he arrived at the club, that I believe in his rotation policy – at least to a certain extent – and strongly believe he has turned the club around and brought quality to the squad.

But that is where the problem lies – before this season started it was clear for anybody to see this is the strongest Liverpool squad for years – maybe even over a decade or more. There is quality throughout, competition for places and players with varied strengths and characteristics.

Had Liverpool not had a huge helping hand from the referee at Goodison Park Benitez would have come in for huge criticism – and rightly so.

Taking the match from the moment Everton went down to 10 men and Kuyt scored the penalty to make it 1-1. Just why did we continue to have the ineffective Sissoko alongside the holding midfielder Mascherano, an out-of-form Gerrard, Benayoun and then two workmanlike forwards who are hardly goalscoring forwards, particularly Voronin.

imageIt’s easy to make scapegoats out of certain players but Sissoko has been out of form for a while now and his performance again was nothing short of woeful. Hopefully someone who taped the game could go through and check but im willing to bet he gave away the ball more times than he kept the ball – add to that the fact he offers absolutely nothing going forward. Why on earth neither Crouch nor Pennant weren’t brought on to replace him early on in the second half is baffling to say the least.

Can anybody who watched the match honestly say that there was a noticeable difference after the dismissal and that we took any sort of advantage of the extra man? No, instead we kept Sissoko and Mascherano on, Kuyt still up front alone, Voronin ineffective out of position out wide.

The lack of a creative player and a clinical goalscorer was evident throughout – often we played some good football in the build-up but went to pieces once we got in the box – Voronin and Sissoko in particular late on had excellent chances and failed miserably to hit the target.

imageOnce Sissoko was finally put out of his misery with a whole 2 minutes to play, it was for Pennant. As soon as the sub was about to be made I naturally thought it must be for Crouch. Seeing as we had a corner, had been getting crosses into the box but failing to convert the headers surely it was the natural change? But no Pennant came on and was told to play in the same central-ish position Sissoko had occupied. Bizarre to say the least.

If Benitez says he isn’t trying to force Crouch out of Anfield then he sure as hell is doing a poor job at showing that he wants to keep him. This game was crying out for he – and Pennant’s – introduction with half an hour to go.

I can’t begin to try and work out the removal of Gerrard from the game just when he was finally beginning to show some form and confidence after winning the penalty. Fair enough, Lucas looked good but had we not won the second penalty late on, or if Everton had been given either of the two pretty legitimate penalty calls, this would have been a substitution which would have been hugely questioned.

I’d have loved to have seen Pennant be brought on as soon as we went 1-1, for him to replace Sissoko and go 442 with Gerrard alongside Mascherano, Pennant and Benayoun down the wings and go at them. Bringing Pennant on might even have stopped their dangerman – Lescott, yes Lescott – from making his surging runs down our right side.

You may say I shouldn’t be ‘moaning’, that we ‘won ugly and that’s a good sign’ but that doesn’t wash. We were incredibly lucky and our performance was again lacking.

Watching Liverpool at the moment is extremely frustrating, we have the players, we have the manager but yet the manager is making some strange decisions in his use of the players. He got very, very lucky at Goodison, let’s hope we don’t need luck in the next few crucial fixtures with Besiktas away on Wednesday and Arsenal at home next weekend.

Matt Ladson

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