Luton confirm what we already know

What surprised me most about yesterday’s result, was not the result itself, but the outraged reaction of Liverpool fans to it. It had ‘˜banana-skin’ written all over it, and given the patchwork team Rafa put out there, I was not at all surprised that we played like a bunch of strangers and got away with a lucky draw.

This was an FA cup tie against a lower league team who have lost only 1 of their last 13 games, against a makeshift Liverpool team of reserves, youngsters and a core of first-teamers.

However, that ‘˜core of first teamers’ did not include Reina, Gerrard, Arbeloa, Aurelio, Mascherano, Kewell or Torres. In my view, today’s selection included a host of players who were playing for their Liverpool futures. And generally, they failed.

Those players are now well-known by the broad Liverpool fan base, who almost unanimously agree that they are surplus to requirements for a club aiming for the Premiership title. Let’s analyse each of them:

John Arne Riise ‘“ once a flying full-back with the fiercest shot in the league, the boy has become an average, slightly overweight, technically challenged, one-footed liability. As he has slowed down, his technical limitations have been more and more exposed, and his inability to use his right foot for anything whatsover means that his time at Anfield is up. While he may be considered unlucky for today’s own goal, any other defender in that situation would have cleared the danger with their right foot ‘“ absolutely NOT their left!

Sami Hyypia ‘“ I enter Sami’s name in to this list with great sadness. The man has been a legend, and a true defensive great. The key words in that sentence though, are ‘˜has been.’

Sami is now being roasted more often than chestnuts at Christmas and ‘“ unfortunately ‘“ we have no-one to give him a break. He has even been allowed to rest his tired old legs with his recent injury, yet he was still undone time and again today by players from two divisions of class below him. The future, unfortunately, has to be with central defenders of the calibre of Sami Hyypia circa 2003.

kuytDirk Kuyt ‘“ Oh dear, where do I start. This is a player who came with a decent reputation, and I must admit, not knowing him from Adam, I trusted Rafa’s judgement. But this is one of the ones Rafa got well and truly wrong. At 10 million quid, he has become a mistake of Heskey proportions. The art of a striker is to be in the right place at the right time.

Dirk reminds me of one of those little dogs that gets loose on your Sunday football pitch and legs it around with the ball at its nose in no particular direction, weaving patterns across the field. The only difference is that the little dog has a better first touch and ball control. One Premier league goal from open play all season tells its own story for a player who has mostly been first choice and next to a world class striker and ahead of a world class central midfield. His time is up, and we must not persevere any longer with him. Effort and commitment can only take you so far. Luton proved that today.

Andriy Voronin ‘“ unfortunately, his style ‘“ and goal return ‘“ is equivalent to Dirk Kuyt. For me, he actually offers the team more in terms of technical ability and first touch, but he simply does not have that striker’s goal scoring mentality. Like Kuyt, he can be found anywhere but in the right striking position when a fox in the box mentality is required.

Peter Crouch ‘“ of the three strikers on this list, the big man is undoubtedly the best of them. But is he good enough to be the second best striker of a team aiming for the top? I’m afraid the answer is no. He’s not prolific enough, not mobile enough, is judged to foul the opposition defenders on umpteen occasions when we have promising attacks, and his heading ability is poor at best. Of the three, Peter is the keeper for the moment, but I fear he won’t stay anyway given Rafa’s consideration of him as a striking afterthought and small game reserve player.

It’s worth mentioning that Crouch, Voronin and Kuyt combined have a grand total of 4 Premier League goals from open play between them this season.

The kids

We have some youngsters coming through who might one day make it to the top of the game ‘“ Might. One day.

jack hobbsTheir time is not now, and when thrown in to the odd game here and there, it’s difficult for them. When thrown in to the odd game and not having the benefit of the senior world class players around them, it becomes virtually impossible. Today, Babel and Lucas were deprived of Gerrard, Torres and Mascherano. Later on, El Zhar joined them as yet another kid in a patchwork team which featured all 5 of the players listed above. When you consider the lack of confidence and technical prowess of those 5, together with a sprinkling of kids who’ve played barely a handful of games, is it any wonder there was a lack of cohesion and chemistry out there? Jack Hobbs also falls in to this category, but thankfully he was reprieved from today’s mess.

What happened to the days of the common sense approach where a youngster would be drafted in in the 50th minute at home when we were already 3-0 up? And then, they’d usually be playing next to the superstars, not in place of them.

Fight and determination

This one I have no answers for, but it’s become an unwanted and unwelcome Liverpool trademark over several years now and it needs desperately to be addressed. It manifests itself in a couple of ways:

1. No bottle against the arch-enemy ‘“ there are only really two clubs who consistently raise their game to battle stations against us, and they are Everton and the mancs. I don’t know what it is about Liverpool and our players, but they never seem to have the stomach for a fight against these two. Everton tear into us like pit bulls every time. They slap us in the face with the gauntlet, yet we invariably refuse to pick it up. Yes, we win our share of games against them, mostly through being an overall superior team, but it’s rare we out fight them with true grit and determination. The same goes for the mancs. When and if we take the lead against them, you can visibly see them roll their sleeves up, start putting the boot in, yelling at refs and inciting the crowd. They are DETERMINED to outfight us for those precious 3 points. Conversely, if we go a goal down, you sense a collective sinking feeling and resignation of ‘˜oh no, not again.’ The fight and will to win is simply not there and the towel is thrown in far too easily.
2. Blasé approach versus the minnows ‘“ it’s been happening for far too long. Either under-estimate the opposition from the kick off, or even more so when going a goal ahead. This has most recently manifested itself no fewer than three times in the last couple of weeks. Totally bossing the game against Derby until we took a one goal lead, then playing like they wanted to be on holiday once they took the lead. Only luck saved us that day. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said against Wigan and Luton. Two teams of limited ability, each walked away with a draw. The lack of urgency during today’s FA cup tie was, well, shocking really.

In my column last week, I mentioned that I think we are generally in good shape, and, irrespective of the points made here, I stand by that. When I see where we are today versus 4 years ago, and when I see us in full flow with our first choice 11 out there, including what really is a world class core of players, I remain optimistic about the future.

But we’re not there yet, and it’s my humble opinion that today’s game simply confirmed the limitations of our squad right now. i.e. we have too many average players filling key first-team spots, we have an awful record of success when the fringe first-teamers are mixed with a sprinkling of kids and we lack a killer instinct and winning mentality when it matters.

All 3 come down to Rafa. He needs to continue to upgrade the squad ‘“ which let’s not forget, he has done tremendously well since taking over Houllier’s mess. He needs to cut out the massive rotational changes (8 changes today) and play a team worthy of the occasion (he’d have been hung today had Luton gotten their deserved win.) And finally ‘“ please, for God’s sake players, if you’re reading this’¦.FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT TO PLAY FOR OUR GREAT CLUB.

I trust in Rafa, I really do. I think he can continue his good work to date and fix the remaining weaknesses ‘“ given time to do so.

Let’s hope the Yanks do too.