8 Nov 2007

Rafa forced to eat humble pie as Crouch inspires Liverpool

Peter Crouch returned from unfairly imposed exile on Tuesday to inspire Liverpool to rampant victory over a staggeringly poor Besiktas side.

It was a great night for Crouch, whose treatment at the hands of Rafael Benitez has been nothing short of disgraceful...

In fact, Benitez's persistent failure to play Crouch has been an insult to the player and abuse of his position as Manager of Liverpool Football Club.

Every time Crouch has played this season, he has made a mockery of Benitez's perpetual snub by playing well. Against Besiktas, Crouch proved categorically that the decision to ignore him this season has been farcical.

Crouch scored twice and was a constant menace, but it is no surprise to me that the team gelled as well as it did. Indeed, I find it rather ironic that three of Benitez’s oft ignored players were fundamental to Liverpool’s deserved victory.

Crouch, Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel are three of Liverpool’s most technically gifted players. Crouch in particular is rare amongst English players in that the technical side of his game is first class – something he is not given enough credit for.

So why did Benitez pick Crouch for this game? The media will have us believe that Crouch was part of some tactical plan to beat Besiktas, but I personally believe that the abject ineptitude of Dirk Kuyt forced Benitez's hand, as opposed to any considered tactical plan. If Kuyt had scored against Blackburn, would Crouch have started? I doubt it. Benitez had to drop Kuyt because he could finally see what the rest of the world has seen for months: Kuyt is just not good enough.

Whatever the reason, Crouch was worth his place and showed just what Liverpool have been missing up front. Unlike the pedestrian, one dimensional Kuyt, Crouch has skill and genuine guile with the ball at his feet and is infinitely more impressive goal threat.

Benayoun and Babel are bright hopes for Liverpool’s future, and they should be playing as often as possible because they are creative, skillful players who bring something exciting to the team: the ability to unlock a defence. As I have argued in the past though, Benitez will continue to keep these two as bit-part players because he prefers ‘huff and puff’ players like Kuyt and Momo Sissoko.

As a Liverpool fan, I am of course ecstatic that Liverpool won the game, but I will not be jumping on the ‘everything is perfect now!’ bandwagon. Fans across the net are falling into the overconfidence trap once again and lambasting the doubters for not sharing their ultra enthusiasm. I can enjoy the result but it doesn’t change the fact that LFC still have major problems to deal with.

The truth is, Besiktas were woeful on the night; the only surprise is that Liverpool didn’t score 10. It was hardly a great test, and the game was not truthfully representative of Liverpool’s season so far. I’d rather Liverpool beat Birmingham, Portsmouth or Blackburn 1-0 that score 8 in CL game that, quite honestly, is pretty worthless at this stage.

The win was great for confidence BUT it will be a worthless, Pyrrhic victory if Benitez does not stick with same team against Fulham. There is no logical reason to change the team for the next game; Benitez should take advantage of the confidence flowing through the likes of Crouch and Benayoun and unleash them at the weekend. Since Benitez has only named an unchanged team 5 times in over 195 matches, the chances that the same team will start against Fulham are slim.

And this is the problem: If Crouch and Benayoun are dropped for the next game their confidence will arguably take a massive hit. Yes, they are professionals and publicly they will proclaim their support for rotation, however, they are only human, and privately I am sure it affect them. If you play well and you're dropped for the next game anyway, where is the motivation to continue plugging away and achieving the highest standards?

As far as I am concerned, there is no reasonable argument for changing the team for the next game. Benitez has the chance to prove some of the doubters wrong, including myself, by not rotating for once and allowing a settled team to blossom.


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