29 Oct 2007

Arsenal expose LFC's 'pub team' creativity

Liverpool were given a footballing lesson by Arsenal on Sunday and were extremely lucky not to lose.

It pains me to say it, but Arsenal were superb, playing football the way it should be played - with sublime technique, imagination and exquisite pass and move. In contrast, Liverpool were afflicted by a dispiriting lack of invention and their usual inability to keep hold of the ball…

This is hardly surprising considering Rafael Benitez’s apparent aversion to genuine creative players, proven again with his preference for the creatively bankrupt pairing of Dirk Kuyt and Andrei Voronin.

These two players are typical Benitez players: Fit, hard-working ‘cover every blade of grass’ grafters who will always score top points for effort. However, they are not creative by any stretch of the imagination. Running ten miles a game does not win you the league – players who can consistently unlock defences are the key to success.

Liverpool have creative players, but due to Benitez’s stubbornness and cautious approach, they are under-utilised. Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel should have started in place of Kuyt and Voronin, and with the system Benitez played, this should have been a no-brainer. But no – Benitez deferred to his typically defensive mentality and went with players who spent most of their time defending in their own half.

What exactly is the point of playing two strikers as make-shift wide players when there are genuine wide players on the bench?! It’s ridiculous. Dirk Kuyt in particular did nothing all game except defend and run around like a headless chicken. And the fact that Liverpool had to rely on a free kick to score just makes this lack of creativity even more obvious.

It was only when Peter Crouch and Yossi Benayoun entered the fray that Liverpool began to retain possession and show a few signs of creativity. These two players are among the most technically proficient in the team and this showed in the way they played. Crouch had 3 or 4 excellent chances and held the ball up well, and Benayoun retained possession excellently and brought others into the game.

Steven Gerrard scored a brilliant free kick goal, but apart from that, his impact on the game was once again negligible. I lost count of the amount of times he gave the ball away or wasted possession in a good area. Gerrard seems incapable of slowing the play down, and always seems to be rushing at 100mph. This is why Benitez substituted him against Everton, though Gerrard shows no signs of improving this aspect of his game.

Of course, Andy Gray and Jamie Redknapp will, as usual, try and convince the world that Gerrard was man of the match with an amazing performance, but this was simply not the case.

The lumbering drudgery of Liverpool’s attacking play is a serious problem that has plagued the club since Roy Evans was at the helm. Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez share a defensive mentality which is at odds with the great Liverpool style of the past.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Unless Liverpool invests in some world class creative talent, the league title will never return to Anfield. Liverpool teams of the past *always* had special creative players and it is no coincidence those teams won title after title. Benayoun, Babel and Torres apart, Liverpool are fatally lacking exciting attacking players. Furthermore, Benitez’s failing rotation policy ensures that the likes of Benayoun and Babel hardly play, thus robbing them of the chance to develop their attacking consistency.

Liverpool need a minimum of three genuine creative players: Two world class wingers and a Beardsley type link man. This will not happen whilst Rafael Benitez is Manager though, as playing expansive, entertaining football is contrary to his footballing philosophy.

One thing is for sure – if Ryan Babel was at Arsenal, under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger, he would be playing week in week out, wowing the world with his attacking skill.

And that is the difference between Wenger and Benitez: Wenger wants to win and win well by playing attacking football and always taking the game to the opposition. Benitez just wants to win at any cost, sacrificing attacking football for a dreary ‘safety first’ approach.


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