As part of the build-up to Sunday’s match, here is a Q&A with Redfloyd from Liverpool blog, Have You Ever Been To Liverpool.
Liverpool’s start to the season has been good so far. What has Benitez changed from last term?
The table doesn’t lie but in truth it’s been a mixed bag.
At the beginning of the season we lacked width but we now have a genuine wide player in Albert Riera on one side with Kuyt of the other. The jury’s still out on Riera but we can now stretch defences and give Torres and Gerrard the space they need. Sadly we’ve still to find a solution to our full back problems. Rafa’s also eased back on the rotating. At the start of last season he rested too many key players for league games with an eye on Europe. Now he realises than the league is the main target this year. We’ve also, in two games, taken more points from the top four teams than we did throughout the whole of last season.
That said I don’t think we’d be top had the rest of the big four not been so inconsistent. Like them we’ve had more than our fair share of wobbly moments but have perfected the useful trick of being able to come back from behind to snatch improbably victories – a good sign for when we really get going!!
In truth we should more than one point in front but sadly the old habit of dropping points at home to teams we should be expected to beat has recently remerged. Despite this team spirit seems to be high. When we’ve had our aberrations and fallen behind we’ve refused to lie down and have eventually, through sheer force of will, prevailed when perhaps last season we would have chucked it in. This is the most gratifying thing of all.
Is Benitez’s lessening his reliance upon rotation a genuine change of policy or an admission that the depth in the squad is not there?
Clearly no manager will 100% be happy with his squad and Rafa is no exception. He will always looking to strengthen. We are a long way from doing what you did in the Carling Cup with your kids (or reserves!) and although he’s signed, and still got, a few duds along the way we have a lot more strength in depth than when Rafa first arrived.! We beat The Mancs without Torres and Gerrard and beat PSV the other day with a genuine second string side so I’m sure Rafa will be encouraged but will also recognise that more needs to be done.
Despite this my inkling is that the rotation issue is more to do with policy. I can’t second guess Rafa but, after a couple of bad results last season, one of them being the Barnsley cup exit, the rotation slowed down and this has carried on into this season. In past he has been accused of resting players for bigger games. This is fine but it should be sensible, and should never jeopardize our chances of picking up points and winning games. We have fallen foul of both these conditions in the past mainly because Rafa has underestimated opposition (and his players?) and taken a longer term view rather than, as he does now, just “thinking about the next game”.
As always, it’s a risk. If Rafa rests players, and wins, he’s a tactical genius if we slip up he’s a meddling, over rotating buffoon! Players can’t play all the time but I sometimes wonder if Rafa is guilty wrapping his players in too much cotton wool. They are young and fit enough to recover quickly and the club provides the best environment possible to enable them to do that.
The summer was a headline grabbing time for Benitez. Is Gareth Barry worth all the love being shown or is Alonso a better bet? Robbie Keane – Value for money or worth less than a Mickey Mouse watch?
No contest! Compared to Alonso, Barry was overpriced and over rated. One only has to see the way Xabi has performed this season to realise that. For all Rafa’s dogged determination to close it, I’m glad the deal didn’t go through. Although I criticised him for his belligerence and intransigence, Martin O’Neill did us a favour by not caving in to our offers. I’ve also a feeling that Rafa’s attempts to offload Alonso were not just to do with football.
Robbie Keane worries me. You can clearly see he is desperate to do well and be successful for the club he supported as a boy. He has always played with pride passion and commitment, just the sort of thing we want. However, I’m not sure Rafa’s handling of him so far has helped. Keane now needs a run in the side to build understanding and find his feet (literally given some his misses this season!). However, Rafa hooks him off far too early and far too often. I’m also not sure Rafa plays him in the right position so far he’s been a loan striker, on the wing but he is most effective ferreting around in “the hole”. Keane had a great game at PSV the other week and probably thought he was close to turning a corner but then Rafa benched him for Hull! Baffling and worrying given his £20m price tag. I just hope we show patience and don’t, as some reports suggest, do anything rash this January.
The bookies still rate Liverpool as third favourites despite being top and missing Torres for some time. Fair call on their part or are they undervaluing being the team’s performance, especially with a proven goalscorer set to return.
I think this is a fair call and it suits us not have the pressure as favourites. Although we are top we haven’t really been any more convincing than the rest of the top four. The fact we have dropped six points from our last three home games and still remain top says it all about the way the so called “big four” are performing at the moment?
Torres has been out with injury twice this season but we missed him more the second time. Although we have proved that we are not so reliant on him (and Gerrard) this season he, like Ian Rush in the past, has a knack of getting vital goals when they are really needed. The fact that we’ve “stalled” in front of goal recently while he was injured is probably no coincidence. The next two months, where there are no Champions League distractions, will be vital. Torres won’t be back until January and if we get through Christmas in tact, on top or in touch and he returns who knows what can happen! I have a gut feeling as to how things will go but at the moment you’ll get no predictions from me!
The general perception is that a Liverpool win ends Arsenal’s title challenge on Sunday. Two things: Is that right and, given Liverpool’s poor record at Arsenal in recent seasons, will Liverpool win on Sunday?
I will maintain that Arsenal can win the tile if only because Rio Ferdinand says you can’t! As we all know Rio has a history of “forgetfulness” he should remember you being something like thirteen points behind Man United one season and still winning the league. Yes, you’ve been inconsistent, and had other problems, but a lot can happen especially if you get your players back from injury, sort your defence out and the teams above you continue to drop points. A win on Sunday will give you three wins out of three against the top four so it would be silly to rule you out yet, but you need to be more consistent.
Re Sunday, I guess now is a good time to play you but then again it is a good time for you to play us! I don’t take account of past records. If they had any bearing we wouldn’t have beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. No doubt you will do your usual trick of pinging it about in a lovely, attractive way and making us look like a team of pub players! You’ll probably score and then we’ll wake up! I think there are always opportunities with your defence and we’ve proved this in the past, especially in the Champions League, so I hope Rafa instructs the side to be positive. The question is, given our current form, will we be able take these chances? I always believe we can win every game we play, blind optimism or stupidity call it both if you like, and feel more confident than I did for any of the games we played against you last season. However, I suspect a draw will be the most likely outcome and with Chelsea facing a difficult game at Everton on Monday this might not be such a bad thing for us?
Thanks to Red for the time. ’til Tomorrow.