Brilliant Babel must come to the fore

OK. That is probably the best and only word in the Oxford English Dictionary that could accurately describe our season.

Of course it started with as much promise as a Led Zeppelin reunion tour. Victories stapled with endeavour (Villa away), class (Derby at home) and a touch of the bizarre (yes, Momo Sissoko really did score at Sunderland!) only galvanised customary summer optimism.

Unfortunately, due in part to a cluster of draws, it became as hapless as Gordon Brown on Election Day. Indeed around January the most ardent of Kopites found hope hard to cling to. Off-field spats engineered by kindergartens’ number one brat boy, Tom Hicks, plummeted moods yet further.

Then there was Barnsley. Oh Barnsley…

However around February Rafa began to shuffle the pack. Not in terms of rotation, that was actually kept to a minimum from here on in, but by way of formation – adopting a single front man with Steven Gerrard acting foil just behind. It worked as elegantly as Liz Hurley in a low-cut dress. A run of nine unbeaten was only stunted at Old Trafford but otherwise served well right through to May.

So overall, yes we kind of capitulated but, as always, belief and encouragement linger. There’s always next season!

Mark Lawrenson spoke recently of the burning need for more match winners. Despite that hairstyle, he couldn’t be more right. Take a look at the spine of Liverpool’s team. Would you swap Pepe Reina for any other goalkeeper in Europe? All the pundits rave over Petr Cech as if he were a footballing prophet. Sure, he is a truly great stopper but he makes more noticeable clangers than Reina does, fact.

What about in central defence? Forget the crazed, despicable hyperbole surrounding Rio Ferdinand, Carragher rules the roost here. No Nesta, Cannavaro or Luisao holds a torch to Bootle’s finest, he’s irreplaceable.

MonsterMoving on to midfield. There is no better defensive minded general than Javier Mascherano. Admittedly, Claude Makelele sets the benchmark but at 35 his influence wanes. Then there is Gerrard himself. I’m sure the majority of reds supporters will concur when I say I would not dream of swapping the skipper for any other player in world football.

Up top Fernando Torres has firmly established himself as one of the leading lights in the striking field. What a signing! An unusual blend of panache and guts – perfect for the Premier League.

So that’s the core of our side. A core that could grace any club and fit in seamlessly.

The aforementioned considered it is obvious where we are lacking. The full-back areas are problematic. I’m a big admirer of Alvaro Arbeloa and can only see him improving. Whether he has enough about him to tie down his place in a Championship (and by that I mean Premier League) winning outfit remains to be seen.

Across the field though there is a BIG dilemma. The search party hunting John Arne Riise gave up the bid around Christmas time. Indeed the once great Norwegian seems to have fled Merseyside and left us with a comedic impressionist.

AurelioThat leaves Fabio Aurelio. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the guy. Every time he begins to play himself into regular contention he picks-up an injury, ala Chelsea (and my God we paid for that!) He has shown ability and promise. Nevertheless when I compare him to those plying their trade at the big three he matches-up like Tim Henman to Pete Sampras.

I say it through gritted teeth but Patrice Evra is world class. Gael Clichy is not half bad and despite possessing the brain cells of an ant, confirmed by his betrayal of the divine Cheryl Tweedy, Ashley Cole is decent on his day. We need something along those lines, a real gusty full-back who can bomb forward and fizz in telling balls.

The flanks are without doubt pivotal this summer. I find it hard and subsequently reassuring to see Jermaine Pennant at Anfield next year. Harry Kewell is also a definite goner. That leaves Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel. And it is the latter who really needs to perform.

Babel, the new Barnes?Not since the days of John Barnes have I seen that array of skill or shorts so tight. Babel has the potential to emulate Digger. In an era where people compare Bruno Cheyrou’s to Zinedine Zidane’s I always scoff at such predictions but in Babel we have a real talent.

Ten goals is a real good return for a debut season, much of which has been spent out wide. He has pace to burn and a blistering shot. It is simply a matter of fine tuning those attributes.

We also require better delivery. Last week against Manchester City he rocketed a cross toward Kuyt with real intent on his left. That’s what we need to see with greater frequency.

A willingness to track back must also be installed, as too consistency by way of threat. Sadly he fades quicker than a dose of Asda’s own deodorant, hence the manager’s tendency to introduce him from the bench – for impact.

Given time he will only get better. But a match winner waits inside Babel and we need more than the deadly duo of G&T.

As regards to potential signings it’s time to stop pussy-footing around acquiring cheap, out of contract frees. I’d certainly welcome Gareth Barry but is he a player who can turn a game, win you a title like Cristiano Ronaldo?

ReservesKevin Keegan was lambasted for his criticism of the Premier League monopoly last week. King Kev bemoaned its monotonous nature and the power of the pound. Sadly, the romance of the 1990s is dead. It was great to see the Reserves prosper in the National Final recently but in reality how many of them are going to make the step up?

I think Jay Spearing has the quality, Craig Lindfield the eye for goal. Robbie Threlfall has impressed me regularly; Miki Roque is a quality passer. Krisztian Nemeth is also red hot. Meanwhile, Emiliano Insua and Damien Plessis have led the charge to starting XI. But realistically, the risk aspect of introducing such players is now a no-go. It’s top four or obscurity and failure in this respect is cataclysmic.

Rafa must aim big this summer. He has no option. This side is good enough for fourth but way short of first and regular match winners are the difference. Only time will tell how much the Texan tit will offer in terms of budgetary needs but the next four months are certainly critical in the Spaniard’s reign.