16 Dec 2007

Liverpool's lack of guile exposed again as gloating stars fail to deliver

Liverpool’s dreary defeat against Manchester United once again exposed the team’s creative paucity and underlined something that has been apparent for years: Liverpool need players with genuine flair and skill and until the club invests in world class wingers/link men, the premiership title will remain an elusive dream.

The Man United defeat was utterly predictable, not only because of the depressing recent history of the fixture, but because of the crass display of cocky overconfidence that saw Liverpool’s players fawning over each others’ supposed brilliance after the midweek victory over Marseille.

The likes of Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Pepe Reina were bigging each other up as if they’d just won the premiership. Pepe Reina even had the gall to bait United, telling the world that Liverpool ‘expected to win’.

I suggested then that such behaviour was ill-advised and contrary to the great Liverpool tradition of humbleness in victory. And as is almost always the case with such gloating, the hype never lived up to the reality.

Against Man United, Liverpool were completely devoid of any real attacking threat, and did not create a single goal-scoring opportunity from open play. Read that sentence again and consider the ramifications: At Anfield, in a must win league game, Liverpool failed to create a real goal scoring chance.

There were two opportunities in the first half, with United’s keeper Edwin Van Der Sar almost gifting the team a goal, but these hardly amount to chances created by guile or skill.

The drudgery of Liverpool’s ‘attacking’ play was painful to behold, and the terminally ineffective Dirk Kuyt once again showed his lack of killer instinct by having no creative impact whatsoever.

But ‘he runs all day and works so hard for the team’ the apologists will whine. Big deal! He can run all day, but when is he going to score some GOALS? That is his job, is it not?! And how can he score goals when he spends 90% of his time in MIDFIELD?!

Why start an exciting player like Ryan Babel or a proven goal threat like Peter Crouch when you can have the leaden-footed Kuyt? It’s just maddening that Benitez persists with Kuyt, and the sooner he admits his mistake and gets rid, the better.

Fernando Torres fared no better than Kuyt; the in-form Spaniard was invisible for most of the game and was a non-entity in the second half. Once again, the hype of the preceding days came back to haunt Liverpool.

After Marseille, Liverpool players were falling over themselves to proclaim that Torres was ‘world class’. Indeed, Mascherano called him a ‘Monster of football’, whatever that is.

Against Man United, Torres struggled to be premiership class let alone world class, but with Liverpool’s disturbing lack of creativity, it is no surprise that 'El Nino' did nothing in the game.

And then we come to Liverpool’s central midfield pair: Mascherano – the man Benitez recently described as ‘World Class’, and Steven Gerrard, whom Jamie Carragher heralded as ‘world class’ and ‘on a par with Kenny Dalglish’ a few days previously.

Well...they were overrun by Owen Hargreaves and the 19 year old Anderson, and Gerrard offered nothing as an attacking threat. Furthermore, Gerrard continued his trend of failing to perform in big games against United.

Roy Keane used to regularly dominate Gerrard but that was understandable given Keane’s mastery of his role. But Anderson?! He had Gerrard and Masch running around in circles – not what you expect from players who are supposed to be the best in the world, but as I said above, the hype never lives up to the reality.

Of course, the blind faith brigade will be out in force calling anyone who criticizes the result ‘knee-jerkers’ and they will cite the club’s recent good form as some kind of evidence that things are moving in the right direction.

Others will be raving about how Rooney and Ronaldo didn't deliver and how Liverpool dominated possession. NONE OF THIS MATTERS. Who won the game? Who won the same fixture last season? Who usually wins when Liverpool play any of the top 3?


This is Benitez’s 4th year in charge and Liverpool look no closer to winning the league than they did under Gerard Houllier. Houllier’s reign was characterized by a distinct lack of creative guile in the team, and Benitez has not improved this one iota.

The plain and simple fact is this: Unless Liverpool invest in world class creative players, they will never win the premiership.

A cursory glance at the roll call of premiership champions reveals that, almost without exception, teams with genuine creativity win the league - Manchester United and Arsenal are testament to this, as are the championship winning teams of Liverpool’s illustrious past.

It is no coincidence that Anfield’s last championship winning team contained players full of trickery and guile; the wondrous like of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Ray Houghton and Jan Molby were all supremely skilful operators with the ability to take players on and open up the tightest defences.

Fernando Torres aside, the current Liverpool team has no genuine creative flair, and this was as painfully obvious against Manchester United as it was against Arsenal in October. No doubt, that statement will be met with the usual hysterical cries of ‘but what about Steven Gerrard’?!

Gerrard is not a consistently creative player. Every once in a while (and usually against inferior opposition) he will go through a purple patch where everything he hits turns into a goal or an assist. However, when it comes to the crunch games against superior defences, he is often found wanting.

Against Man United, he was back to hoofing Hollywood passes and wasting possession; the same lack of intelligence displayed against Everton earlier in the season was on display again.

The same goes for all of Liverpool’s suppose ‘creative’ players. Harry Kewell and Yossi Benayoun are undoubtedly good players, and should be part of the squad, but they are not the long term creative solution Liverpool need.

The only player on the pitch who looked likely to create a genuine goal-scoring opportunity was Ryan Babel, who was positive and tried to take players on. It says a lot about Benitez’s priorities that an exciting, creative player like Babel can’t even get a regular start in the team.

Liverpool have been on a good run, and It’s great that the team has scored masses of goals against inferior opposition, but when it comes to top quality defences, it’s the same old underachieving story.

Instead of spending 17m on Mascherano - a midfielder Liverpool *do not need* - Benitez should spend whatever money he has available on the best creative wingers/link men money their budget will allow.

This won’t happen though; just like Houllier, the ultra cautious Spaniard prefers defensively minded workhorses who run all day to exciting, unpredictable flair players.

Until Benitez changes his philosophy (unlikely) or Liverpool hire a Manager who believes that attack is the best kind of defence (In my dreams) then the club will continue to be also-rans in the premiership.

Two defeats does not mean that the club's league chances are over, but with tough away games against the top 3 to come, and no one capable of consistently unlocking tight defences, the prognosis is the same as it has been for 17 years: failure.


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