Rafa’s questionable tactics

I’m still in a state of shock after watching the French horror show unfold before my eyes on Wednesday. I concur with, well, just about everyone on the planet, that this was one of the worst Liverpool performances in recent (living?) memory.

Free-flowing, attractive, creative football from only a month ago has disintegrated into the recent dross served up against Porto, Portsmouth, Birmingham and especially Marseille.

I’ve read all the comments from players and manager, and the general consensus is one of bemusement. They all seem to be scratching their head wondering where it all went wrong and just don’t understand it.

Well, I think I do.. and I don’t think I’m alone in my thinking either!

I am sick to the back teeth of bloody ‘˜rotation’ and it’s absolutely destroying us right now. If you’ve read my articles over the years, you’ll know that I’ve never supported it, and I never will.

I don’t care if Demento ‘˜rotated’ 168.4 times last year while Rafa did 169.2. That tells you nothing about WHO was rotated and when. It doesn’t account for the fact that several players may NEVER be rotated, while others are constantly. With Rafa, no player is immune, but they should be!

For those sick to death of reading about Rafa the rotator, please bear with me while I outline the top reasons rotation will destroy our chances of number 19.

1. It is a de-motivator of ALL players who are left out. How would you feel to have the game of your life, or score a hat-trick, or put in a man-of-the-match performance only to be ‘˜rested’ for the next few games. Take a look at Crouch’s body language these days. A 24-goal striker last season, he can’t even make the squad these days.

2. It does not allow for any players to form any understanding anywhere on the pitch. Players need to instinctively know the style and positional play of those around them. Every week, with Rafa’s tinkering, whichever direction a player looks, there is generally someone new there. As an example, let’s use Finnan. When he looks in front of him, he doesn’t know if he’ll see Babel, Pennant or Benayoun. If he knocks it into the centre of midfield, will it be Mascherano, Sissoko or Alonso next to Gerrard. If he bangs it forward, will it be to the lively Kuyt, the central Torres, the low lying Voronin, or the height of Crouch. How can he possibly adapt his game ‘“ how can any of our players adapt their game ‘“ to a constantly revolving set of players?

3. Players are not ‘˜match fit.’ If a player is out of the team for whatever reason, they lose their sharpness. Strikers, especially, need a run of games to find their form. It’s no secret that once a striker finds his shooting boots, the confidence flows and so do the goals.

4. Every top squad has a core of world class players, some excellent, a splash of solid & reliable, a few utility players, and some up and coming or coming back from injuries. You CANNOT mix and match at will! You have to play the core of world class at virtually all times. Rooney, Ronaldo, Vidic, Scholes, Giggs, Lampard, Drogba, Terry and Cech are rarely EVER left out. Torres has been left out so far in his Liverpool career than these players experience in an entire season. Remember the Arsenal team of a few years back that remained unbeaten’¦ Lehmann, Henry, Bergkamp, Cole, Campbell, Pires, Toure, Vieira and Ljungberg were virtually ever presents. Wiltord, Kanu, Keown and Parlour knew their place.

5. Players feel under immense pressure to perform every time they’re put back in after being dropped. It’s unnecessary pressure and often results in players trying too hard, yet off the pace and lacking sharpness. For proof, look at Momo Sissoko’s disastrous performance in midweek.

imageRafa’s team selection and rotation policy has been utterly mind-boggling of late. The dropping of Torres for Pompey and Brum, only to reinstate him against the thugs of Reading ‘“ who were clearly intent on kicking him off the park – was utterly incomprehensible to me. Our prize asset was placed at risk in a nothing game, and although he played fabulously, it was poor judgement to play him in that game versus the immensely more important league games

imageSimilarly, the starting of Aurelio and Leto on the left side of the team against Marseille was ridiculous. One was unfit, one was out of his depth, and THIS was the European Cup. The result was a total and utter lack of balance on the left hand side. But it doesn’t unbalance just one side of the team ‘“ it puts the entire team out of synch. There is no confidence to play it out wide one way, so players are forced to make decisions against the normal flow of the game. It was abundantly clear on Wednesday, also, that no-one trusted Sissoko with the ball, so tried to by-pass him. The result in the first half was that 50% of the midfield was a liability, causing a total imbalance and nervousness across the park’¦.

imageYet STILL Rafa refused to make half time substitutions, instead going for the rather strangely timed 48th minute one. Wouldn’t it make sense to let the new player start from the beginning, seeing as all players have just had a 15 minute break, rather than allow them to get moving again, then disrupt the team 5 minutes in? And SURELY it was obvious that Sissoko and Leto were TOTALLY out of sorts and needed to be replaced. The game was crying out for Mascherano to add his steadying influence and allow Gerrard freedom and confidence to go forward’¦ but no, Momo was unbelievably given a forward role and allowed to stay on the park making error after error after error. Why, Rafa?

The problem now, is that it seems it’s Rafa versus the media. He’s showing a stubborn streak worryingly similar to Houllier’s’¦ different but similar.

Houllier was out to convince everyone that Biscan, Cheyrou, Heskey, Le Tallec and Sinama were the dog’s bollocks. They weren’t, and his stubbornness in sticking with them was detrimental to the club and ended up taking us backwards.

premier leagueRafa, it seems to me, is now on a mission to prove his ‘˜rotation policy’ is the magical formula towards the Premier League title, and I believe this thinking is hurting us, badly. Rather than having players who are fresh and rested, we have players who are confused, out of sorts and demotivated.

I am convinced we need a stable starting line up of what constitutes our best available eleven, virtually ALWAYS containing our world class stars.

This would be my current starting line up, week-in, week-out in Premiership and European games (using those players currently available.)

Finnan Carragher Hyypia Arbeloa
Pennant Gerrard Mascherano Babel
Torres Kuyt

I would allow this team at least 5-6 games as the ‘˜first choice’ and having the likes of Benayoun, Crouch, Voronin, Riise, Aurelio, Sissoko etc. being brought on to either alter a game, or when the ‘˜first-choice’ team is a couple of goals to the good. Leto and the other youngsters need to be learning the ropes in the Carling, NOT the European Cup.

(Of course, class acts such as Alonso and Agger would be ‘˜like for like’ players in terms of quality and ability, and would be fighting to regain their position once they return.)

I believe that unless Rafa pulls the plug on the constant mass rotation in every area of the pitch, I think we can pull the plug on our Premier League title chances.

I sincerely hope that I am wrong.

Alex Malone
Email: [email protected]