11 matches into the season and Rafa Benitez’s side remain unbeaten, so just why are so many Liverpool fans unhappy at the current form of their side?
Whilst some fans continue to paper over cracks and state how we are unbeaten and that the results have been exceptable – if not performances – I can’t take such an optmistic view any longer.
Before the season started I was more optmistic than ever, so confident we finally had the players and depth in the squad to mount a title challenge. And after the opening 4 matches I had even more reason to be optimistic.
Unfortunately though, it’s clear that we are losing points far too often than we are actually gaining points. As much as any optimist might try and tell you a draw is one point gained, it is – more importantly when talking about a title aspiring side – two points dropped. We aren’t talking about Bolton who gain a point with a draw, we’re talking about the other end of the table where every point lost is what determines a team’s fate.
Four results in particular stand out so far – Portsmouth, Birmingham, Tottenham and Blackburn – where the match itself was easily winnable. I think everyone will agree on the Birmingham one where Benitez’s embarressing excuse for not playing Torres made us all squirm, but some might dispute the other three.
Portsmouth was winnable, unfortunately though we didn’t play our strongest side and paid the price; Spurs are so poor this season we should have beat them at home, instead we scraped a last minute equaliser; and Blackburn on Saturday was winnable again with the amount of chances we wasted late on.
Ok, so that’s being pretty harsh to expect all wins but that’s a total of eight points dropped where they could have been picked up – even if we’d taken half we’d be in a much healthier position, with 4 more points, already.
So why the dropped points? For me there’s three major reasons relating to our style of play and Benitez’s decision making.
First off, the mis-use of Dirk Kuyt.
Kuyt arrived as a “20-20 striker”, a phrase coined by Martin Jol who claimed the Dutchman could offer a team 20 goals and 20 assits a season, and the early signs were good, Kuyt scored goals and looked like a proper centre forward. Unfortunately now he looks like a workhorse forward who would be more suited to playing for a Championship side or a struggling Premier League team.
I personally don’t think it is the player’s fault though. He is rarely if ever played in his strongest position – as a second striker alongside a Torres type player. Most recently he has been up front on his own, a role he clearly cannot play and when he drops deep as he so often does, it leaves us nothing up front. And when played alongside his fellow hardworking forward, Voronin, the two just do not work.
It seems as though Benitez does this with many forwards where they have too many roles and responsibilites within the team that they lose their attacking edge. Arguably it happened with Morientes and perhaps it was the reasons why Cisse and Bellamy didn’t fit in with Rafa.
Second, the non-use of Peter Crouch.
If ever a player was being forced out of a football club, surely this is it? How on earth Crouch has not started a league match 11 matches in after being top scorer in the last season is staggering. Add to the fact each time he has been brought on in recent matches we have looked a totally different side and actually have an attacking edge. Besiktas away, Blackburn on Saturday and even to a certain extent against Arsenal.
It isn’t just Crouch himself being on the pitch that helps the team, but he creates space for others by receiving attention from defenders. He alongside Kuyt would be an effective partnership while Torres is out, and also allow Gerrard to run on to the big man’s knock downs rather than Gerrard being the man up top where he is clearly more suited to arriving into the box than already being there.
And third, the use of Mo Sissoko.
It’s easy to make a scapegoat out of Sissoko but my ‘problem’ is more the refusal of Benitez to take Sissoko off when he is clearly have a poor match or not needed when pressing for a win. It happened at Everton when he was replaced with a whole 2 minutes left and at Blackburn he remained on when Mascherano was capable of holding the midfield and bringing Lucas on would have provided more quality of passing and attacking composure.
The other side of the story is how the ‘optimists’ would tell you that brining Sissoko off would run the risk of losing the midfield and going on to losing the match. Firstly though, as I stated earlier, 2 points gained is more important than losing 1 more. The defensive mindset with settling with a draw isn’t good enough. Secondly, would you ever see Chelsea, United or Arsenal travelling to Blackburn and playing two holding midfielders in front of a solid back four? No chance.
There’s no reason we can’t go on to mount a title challenge but the draws have to stop – yes we’re unbeaten but if we’d lost 2 of the 4 draws mentioned and won 2, we’d have more points…