About three weeks ago the feeling around Anfield was one of ecstasy and joy; Liverpool had just beaten Derby County 6-0 without star players Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher- this victory took them to the top of the table for the first time in years.
As of September 25th, 2007 however the mood is slightly more somber- although Liverpool have not lost a game in that time, a succession of three draws in a row (one against Porto in the Champions League) has put a dampener on fans spirits, as well as sent Liverpool to fourth in the table (albeit with a game in hand).
So, who exactly is to blame for these slipups?
Although draws will certainly be had during the Premiership season, as the league gets more and more competitive teams wanting to compete for the title can drop fewer and fewer points- and Liverpool supporters should definitely consider it two points dropped both away to Portsmouth and at home to Birmingham. It could have been even worse against Portsmouth had Kanu not fluffed his penalty (a great save from the goalkeeper) and if your team struggles to break down relegation contenders Birmingham at home, you should realize that you have problems up front.
The thing is however that Liverpool do not have problems up front- their strike force is just as good as Manchester United’s, and as a whole probably better than both Arsenal’s and Chelsea’s. Liverpool have the height of Crouch, the work-rate of Kuyt and the intelligence of Voronin to complement superstar signing Fernando Torres, so why the hell could they not break down a team almost certain to be in the relegation battle in front of around 45,000 people at Anfield? The blame has to stay with one man, and one man only. Step forward Rafa Benitez- you will hope that these mistakes do not prove costly in the title race.
Benitez has long since advocated a rotation policy; he did it with great success while he was at Valencia. He has also done it well at Liverpool, helping them reach two Champions League finals (winning one) as well as win the FA Cup. His rotation policy means that players are fresh at the end of the season and are thus able to strongly compete for honours; however his tinkering here has cost Liverpool.
Fernando Torres was bought for a reason- to score goals. Liverpool had always lacked that 20+ goal a season striker, many saw Torres as that man. By signing Torres, Liverpool sent out a definitive statement about what they mean to do this season to the rest of Europe. One of the best young players in the world, Torres shows that Liverpool are aiming to compete with the big guns- not just in Europe, but in the Premiership as well.
The problem I have with Rafa’s rotation policy is basically timing. It is a smart idea, build up a strong squad so all are fresh at the end of the year, however there is no reason to do this at the beginning. At the start of a new Premier League season, players are raring to get into the action. They do not want to be rested, they want to be putting in tackles, scoring goals or winning headers depending on their position on the pitch- thus I cannot understand Torres being rested.
When asked about it, Benitez spouted off some rubbish about Torres not being able to “operate between the lines”. This claim was easily disproved as Torres was the best player on the pitch during his thirty-minute spell against Birmingham; had his well-taken bicycle kick gone in, we may well have seen a contender for goal of the season.
I like Liverpool as a team- were my beloved Arsenal not to win the Premiership I would have no problem if Liverpool did so. That is why it irritates me to see his constant tinkering and rotation. Luckily Manchester United and Chelsea have also slipped up, but Benitez and Liverpool must sort it out before they start to fall behind.
Ed’s Note: With Torres banging in a hat-trick in the Carling Cup, it just goes on to prove what a difference he could have made for Liverpool in the two drawn Premier League encounters…