Brendan Rodgers’ tactics set Christian Benteke up for a fall

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Aaron Cutler is critical of Brendan Rodgers’ tactics and in particular his use of Christian Benteke.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 29, 2015: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren looks dejected after his mistake led to West Ham United's second goal during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Saturday afternoon was a case of Dejan Vu. A promising start obliterated, early optimism extinguished and deep rooted problems, so far obscured, laid bare for all to see.

Liverpool were fortunate to register nil against West Ham, undressed by opponents deemed 14 times inferior by certain bookmakers. The scoreline itself was damning, the performance far worse. For Saturday was but a re-run of the many horror shows to plague 2014/15.

Familiar failings reared their ugly head, giving credence to Barrack Obama’s claim that you may put lipstick on a pig but ultimately…

Radio phone-ins crackled with vehemence, twitter timelines crumbled beneath fume. Here commenced operation meltdown – the first of this a new season – in full hysteria.

Anger proved the overriding emotion; fury at that team selection, those tactics and a diabolical ‘display’. Each grievance undeniably justified.

Fury too at Dejan Lovren for a perplexing self-confidence that borders on arrogance.

Quite why the Croatian, a limited defender never mind footballer, backs himself so is astounding. Time and again he’ll shank a cross-field pass into the Kemlyn or have his pocket picked by opponents he’s felt compelled to beat.

Lovren’s stubbornness is matched only by his manager, whose outright refusal to oust this liability WILL cost him his job.

Both copped rightful flack post-match but then no one was excused. That said one man who could put forward a case for the defence is Christian Benteke, himself a virtual spectator.

To label the Belgian a popular signing is inaccurate; rather the popular belief was his output would define Brendan Rodgers long-term future. Why then are Liverpool setting him up to fail?

In the wake of Saturday’s defeat irate fans were questioning the striker’s work rate, accusing him of laziness. Those same supporters no doubt who lambasted Mario Balotelli’s tendency to drop deep and wander anywhere but the six yard box.

Benteke was Liverpool’s designated forward and presumably instructed to stay in the vicinity of the opposition goal. Makes sense, right?

As staggering as it may sound, it is the duty of others to involve him.

If Benteke was to go seek out possession, in a similar vain to Philippe Coutinho, it would leave us with no focal point. His isolation is an indictment on those charged with playing in and around him, as well as the team’s collective tactics.

Four games in this has become a worrying trend.

Away at Stoke Benteke competed well but was starved of third man runners. This improved slightly at home to Bournemouth, considerably so away to Arsenal.

STOKE-ON-TRENT, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 9, 2015: Liverpool's Christian Benteke is denied by Stoke City's goalkeeper Jack Butland during the Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

On Saturday however he cut a lone figure deprived of numbers and crosses. It smacked of one step forward, two giant steps back and alarming regression.

West Ham’s stifling game plan saw Coutinho drop deep to salvage possession, Roberto Firmino also. Suddenly a 4-3-3 with able support becomes a 4-5-1 with little to no width.

The two Brazilians are self-confessed playmakers who like to roam; neither will hug the touchline and look to shift then cross.

This renders Benteke practically redundant, particularly when your three central midfielders are both one paced and one of the same.

On the few occasions Liverpool went long to their front man they were lofted rather than telling balls. There was nothing to attack, hence a first half that resulted in Benteke touching the ball just ten times.

Away from home Big Ben will prove a great out ball, a chance to not only relieve but retain possession. This was best demonstrated at the Emirates, wherein he won 16 of 24 aerial duels.

He did so with intelligence, doing far more than glancing balls in the vein of Andy Carroll. Instead the 6ft 4in target man commanded the clearance, bringing it under his spell before feeding a teammate. Startling, I know.

At Anfield, with the emphasis on Liverpool to break down two banks of four, that game plan is worthless. It is in these instances where Liverpool must seek to vary their play and consider crossing purposefully.

A hopeful toss into the box from deep, the like of which Javier Manquillo came to define, is wasteful possession. Instead Liverpool must commit players and seek to hit the bye line, affording Benteke the chance to feed on something.

STOKE-ON-TRENT, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 9, 2015: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers and assistant manager Sean O'Driscoll during the Premier League match against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Alternatively, Rodgers idealistic 4-3-3 should be abandoned in favour of the diamond or any variant that results in two up top.

Shoots of recovery were evident only once Danny Ings was introduced on Saturday, the debutant linking with Benteke, albeit from a wide berth.

A proper foil will give defenders something or rather someone else to think about – be it Ings or the returning Daniel Sturridge. Suddenly you boast a threat in behind and someone to feed off a knock down at the very least.

Nobody is labelling Tactics Tim a footballing mastermind but Sherwood’s summer warning to Benteke does hold weight.

Villa’s chief geezer was at pains to highlight how only one Premier League team crossed the ball less than Liverpool last term, a penny for the thoughts of someone to have headed more goals than anyone (16) since arriving on these shores.

Certain pundits claim Rodgers has sacrificed his own principles by integrating Benteke, Saturday revealed that a half true.

For though the reds are going longer (particularly from goal kicks) they are yet to introduce genuine width. Sherwood vindicated, at least initially.

Nathaniel Clyne looks to bomb on but his was the only pass available last weekend. On the opposite flank Joe Gomez appeared what he is, a right footed central defender instilled at left full back.

Square pegs in round holes have become an all too familiar sight.

The youngster’s defensive capabilities make him a shoe-in away from home but at Anfield the more adventurous – and left footed – Alberto Moreno is surely a better option.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - Monday, July 20, 2015: Liverpool's Alberto Moreno in action against Adelaide United during a preseason friendly match at the Adelaide Oval on day eight of the club's preseason tour. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Gomez is loathe to surge forward on his weaker foot and understandably so. Finding your feet is hard enough without the added burden of orchestrating attacks in an otherwise toothless set-up.

Even Jordon Ibe and Adam Lallana, when selected, tend to drift in-field and dessert their designated flank. Liverpool do not so much as hunt width as deliberately avoid it, a bizarre tactic made all the stranger given current personnel.

As for Benteke his all round play was well received up until Saturday, when those first murmurings of complaint surfaced. These were not only harsh but inevitable and certainly without foundation.

Brendan Rodgers went out on a limb to secure his man, now he must build his team around him. To expect the player himself to conform to a progressive and increasingly guileless set-up is naive and suicidal.

The reds boss has patently alienated swathes of the support yet his destiny lies in the hands of FSG and by extension Christian Benteke. The latter is the marquee signing who simply must succeed; let’s give him every chance to.

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