12 Nov 2007

Has Rafa found his best XI?

With ten goals scored in the last two games and Liverpool’s first unchanged team in over a year, is Rafa close to discovering Liverpool’s best XI?

I personally don’t think so. Everything seems positive right now, but there are problems looming on the horizon with the return to action of a couple of Liverpool’s key players, namely Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger...

This might seem like a blessing for Liverpool, but how is Rafa going to accommodate these players and not unbalance a winning team?

An more pertinent question is how will Rafa accommodate Gerrard, Mascherano and Alonso? At present, the Gerrard/Mascherano partnership has been forced upon Rafa due to injuries, but given the Spaniard’s predilection for rotation, it seems inevitable that changes will be made.

In my view, a winning team should never be tinkered with, regardless of who is waiting in the wings. The one exception to this rule should be Fernando Torres, who should *always* start if he is fit, as he offers skill and creativity that no other Liverpool player possesses.

Daniel Agger’s return to the first team at the expense of Sami Hyypia is all but assured, despite Hyypia's important contribution to Liverpool’s recent solidity. Three clean sheets in a row and a man of the match performance against Fulham should be enough to keep Hyypia in the team, but that won’t happen.

After the last two results, The Steven Gerrard fan club will be out in force trying to convince everyone that his role in centre mid is the reason for Liverpool’s mini-resurgence. Whilst Gerrard has upped his performance level after the humiliation of the Everton substitution, the same old problems of positional indiscipline creative and paucity still exist, disguised by the mask of good results.

Besiktas and Fulham are hardly world class opposition, and until Fernando Torres came on in the 70th minute, Gerrard was once again bereft of ideas. Furthermore, for 10 minutes before Torres appeared, Fulham were creeping back into the match, capitalizing on the huge spaces left by Gerrard as he wandered away from his responsibilities.

Gerrard should be moved to the right to accommodate the return of Xabi Alonso. Given the fact Jermaine Pennant and Yossi Benayoun are both injured, this is a no-brainer. I shouldn't allow my personal feelings about Gerrard cloud my judgment though - he is part of a winning team and should retain his place for the time being.

As for Rafa’s best XI…it MUST contain the spine of the team, which for me means the following:


All the other places are up for grabs, but if fit, the above four players must be the first names on the team-sheet. As such, Rafa’s best XI is as follows:

Example 1: Rafa’s current best XI

--------------------------- Reina

Arbeloa --------Agger -------- Carragher ------- Aurelio

---------------------- Mascherano

Benayoun ----------- Alonso------------- Babel

------------------- Torres ---- Crouch



This team contains Liverpool’s most technically adept players, which allows for quick one touch football and proper pass and move - the founding principle of the renowned ‘Liverpool style of play’.

With two left-footers on the left, there is genuine balance in the team, something Liverpool have lacked for years. Up front, Crouch and Torres are both major goal threats and their contrasting style complement each other perfectly.

Of course, there will be howls of derision at the omission of Steven Gerrard, but the above team does not need him. Gerrard may be more of a complete player than Mascherano or Alonso, but that does not make him better.

Liverpool need specialists in every role, and Alonso and Mascherano are specialists in their respective roles. Alonso is superior to Gerrard in his range of creative passing and ability to dictate the play, and Mascherano is streets ahead of Gerrard when it comes to breaking up play and protecting the back four.

If Liverpool are to mount a serious challenge for the title, then the team above has to be the template for the future. As I’ve argued many times, Steven Gerrard needs to be sold, with the money being used to buy the best creative players available in Liverpool’s price range.

Using the team above as the template, Liverpool need the following to progress to the next level:

i) A world class/excellent Peter Beardsley type link man.
ii) Two world class/excellent wingers.

With the addition of these players, the team would look like this:

Example 2: Future premiership winning team (4-4-1-1)

----------------- Reina

New attacking RB---- Agger --- Carragher ---- New Attacking LB

----------------- Mascherano

New RW ------ Alonso -------- New LW

----------------- New Link Man

---------------------- Torres

The above team could alternate between 4-4-1-1 and 4-4-2, depending on the opposition. In a 4-4-2, the team would look like this:

Example 3: Future premiership winning team (4-4-2)

---------------- Reina

New RB---- Agger --- Carrgaher --- new LB

New RW ----- Alonso --- Mascherano --- New LW

--------Crouch/New Striker----Torres

As good as Harry Kewell is, he is not the long term solution for obvious reasons. And on the right, Liverpool still lack real skill and guile. Jermaine Pennant has improved a lot, but his goals return is not nearly good enough. Furthermore, Benayoun should be utilized as a link man rather than a right winger, as that is his natural position.

Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa have both done okay since returning to the first team, though there are still improvements to be made in both positions. A rampaging left or right back would add more creative impetus to the team, but for now, Arbeloa and Aurelio must be first choices in their respective positions.

I sincerely doubt we will ever see the team I have chosen (Example 1 above), mainly because Steven Gerrard is bigger than the club, and there is no way Rafa can do anything that doesn't involve him. Mark my words though, Liverpool will not win the league unless the above formation and personnel in Examples 1-3 are adopted.


Post a Comment