Just two weeks into the new Premier League season and the critics have been busy sharpening their knives every day. Recently the murmurs of disapproval towards Benitez has become a chorus across media tabloids, message boards and radio phone ins.
The belief and expectations on Rafa to deliver the title this year has ultimately lead to the mass ‘knee-jerks’ when Liverpool lose or draw a game….
Sustainable success takes time to nurture and develop, since Rafa took over we’ve seen new players introduced every year and every season we’ve played better and better football, this year will be no different. Liverpool will be better….. The interminable saga surrounding Xabi Alonso ended in July at Anfield, its time to move forward, and until Alberton Aquilani – our main central midfield playmaker is fit and ready to return to first team action, we must support our 22 year old Lucas and Mascherano, who despite our disappointing results have been in great form.
After our impressive collection of 86 points last season, our unbeaten record at Anfield, our club record 13 away wins, and to top it all, we scored the most goals in the League last season. The Reds have started this season 6 points adrift of early pace-setters Chelsea and Tottenham but as we approach the International week, its time to reflect and control our high expectations and begin to realise it “TisThe Season To Be Positive”
The Goalkeeper Position
As mentioned in our Stoke Redkopi preview, in Pepe Reina, Rafa has a player who is well on his way to becoming one of Liverpool’s finest goalkeepers ever. His distribution, concentration, communication and in working with Rafa’s tactical play, his positioning and willingness to move up away from his line has given Liverpool the licence to defend higher up the pitch.
Over the past number of seasons, we’ve welcomed and waved goodbye to an array of full backs from Josemi and Kromkamp to Finnan and Riise. Last year saw Rafa find his two ideal attacking full backs in Dossena and Philip Degen however neither players have settled into the attacking full back role forcing Rafa to look again for a solution.
This Summer saw Rafa pay a reported £17.5 million for England right back, Glen Johnson. Again as i mentioned in the Aston Villa Redkopi article, critics questioned whether the 24 year old right back was over priced, even Benitez admitted he had spent “a little bit more” than he wanted to for the England right back but Rafa knew there was more to Johnson than meets the eye.
Johnson’s opening four games already suggests our right back is already value for money. Johnson has brought a new dimension to Liverpool’s attack, he’s became a potent threat on the right, he’s good on the ball, gets to the byline, puts in pinpoint crosses and gives the team genuine width. He’ll become vital to the team in our attempts to break teams down who set up counter attacking as well as containment. His two goals already prove he’s the perfect full back match winner.
Rafa was handed a massive pre-season blow with the news Fabio Aurelio would miss the start of the season. However, Rafa’s path on his road to glory can be seen in his youth development which is beginning to come to the fore. Emiliano Insua arrived from BocaJuniors in January 2007. Coming through the Reserve youth system Insua has grown in stature and confidence and we are beginning to see him exert his own influence in the opposition half, Insua has improved on his fitness, technique and tactical approach since he made his first-team debut against Portsmouth back in April, 2007 but the most important aspect is we have a young full back with the right mentality.
Shanklys approach to every game was “for a player to be good enough to play for Liverpool, he must be prepared to run through a brick wall for me, then coming out fighting on the other side.” Carraghers and Skrtels game is based around this principle and already we’re beginning to see this shine through in Insua. With Johnson and Insua, we finally have two young intelligent full backs who know when to make regular forays forward giving Liverpool width.
We’ve witnessed seven goals conceded in our first four games. Benitez will be first to admit it is a record which is not good enough for Liverpool Football Club. However, with Carragher resplendent in black head bandage, Skrtel suffering from the painful hairline fracture in his jaw and Agger injured with a troubled back injury, its given the media a great opportunity to focus on Liverpools zonal marking – an area which has been exacerbated by the media. With players injured, a new 18 year old center back and our new Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos it is obvious there are going to be problems at the back as players adjust to formation and tactics…
There are pros and cons to zonal marking, attackers will sometimes have an advantage because they are running towards the ball while defenders are jumping from standstill. Whether zonal or man marking is the best, Rafa (quite rightly) will always maintain that zonal marking does work and worked for us last year. So why change a system that works… I believe it works much better than man marking…. Rafa has struggled to use his tactical team and organisational team building tactics to full effect so far this season. Liverpool will always concede goals irrespective of zonal or man marking – it doesn’t make a difference.
How many times havewe heard pundits talk about our defensive approach and our 4-2-3-1 formation. If you notice players adopt a defensive role through a game, analyse positions and you’ll quickly realise why. We’ve seen glimpses of how Rafa wants the formation to work but injuries to key players at the back have so far dictated Rafa’s tinkering this season. Rafa’s philosophy is players should move as a unit up and down the pitch. Every team dictates play by having the ball when they are attacking, they control ‘their’ space when they are defending. However, Rafa’s attacking philosophy this season will see more and more of a 2-3-5 formation. On the left of midfield, we have Riera, Benayoun and Babel and all three players will be instructed to tuck in behind Torres, a feature we’ve seen Kuyt over on the right do more often this season. This leaves the space for Johnson and Insua to exploit, a tactical approach which has already come to fruition.
Rafa has built a team of 11 potential defenders, perhaps an area some might say Babel and Voronin have struggled to adjust to… He’s built Lucas Leiva and Mascherano into two players who can retain possession, players who will break up play and aim to begin counter attacks. The level of criticism directed towards Lucas Leiva this season from some of our so called fans is shameful… The media have cited Alonso departure as the main reason for what many critics have said a lack of creativity or forward movement from the centre of midfield.
Statistics this season show Lucas has been one of Liverpools star performers this season along with Reina and Johnson and as I mentioned earlier, until Alberto Aquilani – our central midfield playmaker is fit and ready to return to first team action, we must support our 22 year old Brazilian. Lucas this season has proved he has a bit of everything, he’s very calm on the ball, he is an excellent passer which pass completion statistics have already shown this season and he can also get forward. As a result of his partnership with Mascherano, he needs to learn to find the right balance and bring through his creative passing aspects more but this all depends on his confidence levels which is why this unjust barrage of criticism must stop from our fans…. In all four games Lucas has performed his specific role in a team efficient manner.
The media have revelled over our supposedly lack of depth upfront. Here’s our forward formation
Liverpools attacking strength contains a number of versatile players. If you look at the above line up, all players can interchange in each position and both wingers can form a three man attacking trio when our full backs are pushing forward. Rafa has finally got the understanding of his attacking players who have the right mentality and intelligence to play his tactics and game plan.
Babel has the potential to becoming Rafa’s final jigsaw on the left. When Babel first came to Anfield, he commented “at Ajax I didn’t have to do any defending but thats not the case here, its a new system and a new way of playing but i’m getting used to it and feel as though i’m getting better.”
In the Bolton Redkopi preview, I ran a poll asking readers to vote on Babels best position. 12% of readers voted that Babels best position is wide on the right, 17% voted his best position is wide on the left while a massive 71% of readers believe his best position is upfront, through the middle. With Insua making regular forays forward, Babel will be given more and more opportunities to come into a more central area, bit its vital Babel starts producing the goods consistently from the start of matches, he has the speed and pace, he has to learn that Liverpool need 11 potential defenders on the field as well as 11 potential attackers.
He needs to improve greatly on his work ethic, unselfishness and defensive qualities as his ability to operate between the touchline, forward line and midfield makes him the epitome of the modern attacking winger and has the potential to become a key player to maximise our 4-2-3-1 formation and our 2-3-5 formation.
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Upfront has seen Rafa build potentially our greatest forward line in Liverpools history in Torres and Gerrard, a partnership that should never be broken. When Gerrard and Torres started upfront last season, Liverpool won an impressive 78.6% of their Premier League games, unfortunately this only counted for 11 out of 14 games. If Rafa’s manages to keep Torres and Gerrard fully fit, we’re in for an enjoyable season….
The Future of Liverpool
The expectations upon Rafa’s team appear to weighing heavily, lets stop rising to the media and Liverpool critics, change our attitudes and begin to realise that if we fail to land the title this year, its not Rafa’s fault, or Lucas’ fault or Voronin’s fault… – its a result of 20 years of Liverpool teams that havn’t been strong enough.
Lets remove our expectations and start supporting every player and begin to use the words “lets CHALLENGE for the title” instead of “WE MUST win the title” for the sake of the manager and the future of the club….
Rafa is one of the best managers we’ve had in recent years, lets show him our full and loyal support before its too late….
Redkopi – The Eye of the Red Kop