An incredibly negative line-up from Rafa Benitez
When was the last time you saw any Premiership side set out as defensively as Liverpool did today? Losing the squad’s three most creative players to injury was an obvious problem for Liverpool, but should serve as no excuse for the pathetic team Benitez sent out to play an out-of-form Stoke side, who themselves played very poorly.
Any side would struggle having lost Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun, but the reality is that the first two (particularly Torres) are so injury-prone that the manager must have some kind of back-up plan for the inevitable ocassions he is without his first-choice players. It’s not as if Benitez was without any kind of attacking options in his squad – he had two wingers (Maxi Rodriguez and Albert Riera) on the bench, as well as Alberto Aquilani, who could have been fielded in the attacking midfield role, with Kuyt pushed to his usual right-sided position.
In the end, Benitez played two full-backs in the wide positions. This at least worked well defensively (and Stoke struggled to get crosses in) but it offered almost no attacking threat from wide areas, which is crucial in the 4-2-3-1 system Benitez has rigidly stuck to throughout his time at both Valencia and Liverpool. In the end, the wide midfielders played so deep that this became a 4-4-1-1 system.
To add to a back four and two full-backs pushed into midfield, we have Javier Mascherano (one goal in 73 Premiership appearances), Lucas (one goal in 63 Premiership appearances), Dirk Kuyt (a striker who didn’t score enough so was shifted to the wing, but completely lost when playing the Gerrard role in a 4-2-3-1), and David N’Gog (who actually looks a decent player, but playing a 20-year-old striker upfront on his own away at Stoke is unlikely to produce much).
Where does Benitez think the goals or creativity is going to come from? It’s easy to Benitez-bash at the moment, but he’s hardly helping his case by sending out such awfully negative sides. Even if they were unfit, surely Riera and Rodriguez could play 45 minutes each? Quite what the situation with Ryan Babel is remains a mystery – he was dropped from this squad with no explanation, as he outlined himself on twitter:
If Benitez considers him to be less of a help on the wing than two full-backs and less of an asset on the bench than two (presumably) unfit teammates, then dropping him is understandable. But in that case, why is he rejecting £8m bids for him?
In the end, Liverpool had a grand total of one shot on target – the goal, and even that being described as a ’shot’ is slightly generous.
It’s also rather alarming that Liverpool’s last three goals, in the two games at Reading and today, came from (a) A Gerrard cross that went all the way in, (b) a ludicrous deflection and (c) a goalkeeping error. In other words, they’ve played three games against poor sides and haven’t really ‘created’ a goal in any.
Benitez will no doubt complain about having three of his best players unavailable, but compare Liverpool’s situation to Arsenal’s. They have been without Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas (their equivalents of Torres and Gerrard) in recent weeks, but Arsene Wenger would never send out a side so completely lacking in ambition or attacking intent.
Success without style is fine, style without success is acceptable. But neither success nor style is inexcusable for a club as proud as Liverpool, and this awful display might be the last time Rafael Benitez is allowed to pick a Liverpool side.An incredibly negative line-up from Rafa Benitez