Gerard Houllier - RIP :-(

21 Jul 2009

It's time for Liverpool FC to kick its most destructive habit...or risk league failure once again.

If Liverpool are to have any chance of winning the league title next season, a destructive, negative trend that has consistently derailed the team over the last few years must be reversed.

In the last two seasons, the club has drawn a whopping 24 league games; 13 in the 2007-08 season and 11 in 2008-2009. That equates to a depressing 48 dropped points (!), and that’s before you add on points lost through league defeats.

These draws have arguably cost Liverpool the title for two years running. To illustrate this point, consider the following:

1. Season 2008-2009: Liverpool finished 4 points behind Champions Man United. If just two of the 11 draws had been converted into wins the title would have won on goal difference. 2 out of 11 draws! Is that too much to ask? The brutal truth is beating Stoke and Hull at Anfield – two games that ended in inexcusable draws – would have meant the title!

2. Season 2007-2008: If 6 of the 13 draws had been converted into wins, Liverpool would’ve won the title by one point. Achieving this would’ve meant beating Birmingham (twice), Middlesbrough, Wigan, Portsmouth and Blackburn Rovers, games that were eminently winnable.

Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing but the fact is excessive draws are killing the club’s chances of winning the league, and this needs to change, or history will just end up repeating itself.

13 draws in one season for a club that is supposed to be a genuine title contender? Pretty pitiful really. The last time Liverpool were achieving this number of draws was the 1970s (!), when teams in the top flight played 42 league games per season.

Season 2007-08 was bad enough when it came to league draws, but last season was arguably worse, with the embarrassing failure to beat Stoke City TWICE and an inability to beat the likes of Hull City and Fulham at Anfield.

Having said that, in the final 3 months of last season, Rafael Benitez released the team from the shackles of his overly cautious approach, and the impact was stunning: only one of the last 11 league games ended in a draw, which was quite a turnaround after the drudgery of drawing 10 of the first 27 games.

It seems clear that minimising the number of league draws in the upcoming season has to be the number one priority, and this means sticking to the progressive, direct, attacking philosophy of the final three months of last season.

The question is, will Benitez allow that to happen?

I personally do not think so. Every season since he came to Anfield, Benitez has proved that his philosophy is ‘it is better not to lose than take risks to win’. And before I am (inevitably) accused of attacking Benitez, people should be honest and acknowledge the fact that the final 3 months of last season are clearly not indicative of his entire reign. Those months of fearless attacking football are the exception, not the rule.

With that in mind, it seems unlikely that 4 and a half years ‘safety first’ football is just suddenly going to be abandoned. It doesn’t work that way. Benitez was forced to throw caution to the wind at the end of last season because his job was on the line and his ill-conceived rant against Alex Ferguson dovetailed with a slump that led to Liverpool losing a 7 point lead at the top of the table.

Next season, Benitez will revert to type, and we will see the same old defensive formations, cautious substitutions, square pegs in round holes and the continued refusal to take risks to win games.

We’re already seeing it in pre-season! Two games played - one draw; one defeat; no goals scored, despite having strong line-ups in both games. All you need to do is examine the formations and how the teams have been set-up so far and you will see how Benitez is already reverting to type.

Contrast that with Manchester United’s pre-season so far: two games played; two wins; 5 goals scored. Yes, pre-season friendlies are pretty meaningless for the most part, but there’s nothing wrong with starting as you mean to go on.

Of course, we could see the opposite of what I’ve outlined – Benitez could allow the team to stay off the leash from day one and continue their fearless attacking form of the final three months of last season. How great would that be?

Realistically though, this is not going to happen, and unfortunately, there is nothing in Benitez’s reign so far to suggest otherwise.

Of course, I hope I’m proved wrong.


19 comments:

  1. You cant possible know how he is going to set up the team or what direction he is going to give the players.
    I take it you want rafa sacked as you see him incapable of winning the league due to his "same old defensive formations, cautious substitutions, square pegs in round holes and the continued refusal to take risks to win games."
    I have asked this question in several of your threads before and you have always failed to answer - What did/do you expect rafa to have achieved in his 5 years in charge?

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  2. No one can know for sure how rafa will set-up the team but in the absence of absolutes, the past is good indicator of what is to come in the future.

    I don't 'want Rafa sacked' at all - if this season is trophyless again, then I think it's time for someone else to take charge.

    Re what I expected Rafa to have achieved after 5 years; that's simple:

    1. Consistent title challenge from year 2 onwards, not just in year 5.

    2. The ability to figure out the Premiership at any point in the first 5 years, not just in the final 3 months of season no 5.

    3. Prioritising the league title from day 1, not just from season number 5.

    4. Conducting himself in a manner becoming a manager of LFC, i.e. NOT: arguing in public with the owners; manipulating the press/fans to further his own agenda; treating a succession of players with contempt; publicly criticising players on a regular basis; bloating our youth ranks to such a degree that the club now has the biggest first team squad in the premiership.

    Last season, Benitez took the club as far as he will take it when it comes to league success. He was ultimately defeated by his own weaknesses. I sad the same thing after the 2001-2002 season about Gerard Houllier and people were (predictably) on my back then too.

    Benitez is a very good manager, there's no denying that; he just hasn't got what it takes to bring home the league. In my (minority) opinion of course.

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  4. Hind sight is wonderful thing, but also very shortsighted. We finished our highest point tally ever in a Premier League Season. We lost the fewest games…. And scored the most goals. In 7 out of ten other seasons, with the final point tally we finished with, we would have won the league. You also have to see which of the other big 4 drew against the likes of Stoke and Fulham.

    You're also forgetting that in the last 14 games we had both a fit Torres and Gerrard.... Which I'm sure played a huge part in securing our final run in. These two with no injury concerns are probably the deadliest partnership in the world today. During those two months when we dropped points from draws, we had to depart with a supposed 20 million pound striker which left us a little short of options up front. A lot of things had been going on behind the scenes during that time… "SOS DIC…. Out with the Americans" It's a miracle that Rafa managed to acquire this many points.. Little alone finish in the top 4.

    Rafa in the past 5 years has had to deal with the most turbulent times our club has gone through since before Shankly arrived and changed everything. He has managed to take the most average of teams full of players that really didn’t play for the badge… 'Diao, Diouf, Biscan, Heskey, Cisse, Traore, Cheyru… ' and has turned us into one of the most feared teams in Europe. All of this during a take over, a potential sacking (Klinsman) and all the other boardroom issues that have gone on.

    The point I'm trying to make by all this, is the season hasn't even started and you're already complaining about Benitz and his tactics based on our two first friendlies of the year… one of which half the team had still been on Holiday.

    Now's the time more then ever that we should be supporting Rafa and the boys…. It is at the end of the day…. THE LIVERPOOL WAY.

    YNWA

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  5. @Anon - I deleted your comment for obvious reasons, but as to your point that I'm "one of these oot that bang on about signing villa and eto" - well, you're 100% wrong. I've written two articles arguing that we should NOT sign either player:

    Why Liverpool should not sign David Villa

    Why Liverpool should not sign Samual Eto'o

    And what does the fact I don't live in Liverpool have to do with anything?! Such a predictable, cliched response from someone who probably considers himself to be some kind of superfan because he lives in Liverpool.

    95% of the club's fanbase doesn't live in Liverpool. Fans who live in Liverpool are not the most important aspect of the club. If you take away Liverpool-based fans the club goes on; if you take away fans based outside Liverpool, the club withers and dies.

    Furthermore, the majority of Liverpool FC's success over tge last 50 years has been created and maintained by non-Liverpudlians.
    Liverpool-based fans definitely play their part, but those who denigrate so-called ‘OOTS’ are just ignorant in the extreme. Kind of Like you :-)

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  6. @Anon - thanks for your comments.

    You make valid points but it doesn't really make any difference in the end: the club finished the season trophyless. Again.

    The fact that the points total was so improessive make the failure to win the league all the more galling, as the league was eminently winnable last season. It was pretty much handed to Liverpool on a plate and we still managed to blow it. I don't see how this is something to celebrate.

    And let's not forget that the upheaval over Robbie Keane leaving mid-season was down to Benitez. He bought the player; he mis-managed him and didn't give him a chance. Benitez created that problem all by himself.

    Yes, there have been turbulent times over the last year but Benitez has repeatedly fanned the flames on numerous occasions instead of just keeping his mouth shut and getting on with the job.

    This season, I just want to see Benitez focused 100% on football, not mouthing off in public about the board or arguing with other managers in the press.

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  7. I posted the previous comment.

    In Response to "the upheaval over Robbie Keane leaving mid-season was down to Benitez... he bought the player….", this is in fact not true.

    Rafa did not want Robbie Keane and it was Parry who purchased the player. Rafa had been chasing a certain Barry who turned out to be one of the most influential players of the season. Missing out on Barry last year might have even further consequences this season should we lose Alonso.

    This was just another prime example of one the many issues Rafa had to deal with while staging a title push. I'm sure if Red Nose wanted a player and the funds were available…. He would get that player. The fund were available but unfortunately they were spent on Keane and not Barry.

    I agree with you that too often Rafa has dealt with issues by addressing them in the public. However he can be forgiven to a certain extent given his background coming from Spain, (where such things are generally done by coaches) and the overall turmoil the club has gone through . One of his rants (good or bad) post the loss in Athens… did however cumulate to us purchasing Torres and Mascherano. If he hadn't have gone on that rant who's to say those funds would have been made available. It was a calculated decision made by someone hadn't been given the backing but who truly believed we needed strengthening. He well could very well have been fired after that.

    Now regarding the title being handed to us on a plate, again this is something I have to disagree with. Scum broke the record for the most consecutive clean sheets and had a total points tally higher than many other a season. If they had won it with 80 points then you could say they handed it to us on a plate.

    Yes we did finish trophy less…. But you ask Carra and Gerrard which of the seasons was the most successful we've had since they started playing for the us, they will most definitely say last season. You ask them their most successful campaign it will obviously be the CL in 2005 but the overall season of 2005 was actually terrible… we finished behind Everton. 2008 -2009 will be at the top.

    Hopefully Rafa will be able to concentrate 100% on the football…. So long as he doesn’t have to also cope with the owners and the resulting disastrous financial situation, (not being able to strengthen squad)…. We'll be celebrating our 19th come the end of the season.

    All I'm asking for is to stay positive for one more season. He has taken us this far…. He deserves all our support.

    Haytham Nasr

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  8. That's just rubbish...
    You just always find something, which you describe as Rafa's failure, like rotation, defense first and all this bullshit!
    And Robbie Keane had his fair chance. He played about 25 games till he left and when he isn't able to score at least 12 goals, then it's not Rafa's failure!
    Let Rafa do his work and shut up!!!

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  9. Haytham

    With all due respect, you're regurgiating spurious media nonsense. Rick Parry signed Robbie Keane?! Come on, you don't seriously believe that, do you?

    Since when do Chief Executives sign £20m players? You even state that 'this is, in fact, not true'.

    Okay - Where is the factual evidence that Rick Parry signed Keane? There is none, of course.

    What is more probable - a Chief Executive going over the Manager's head and signing a high profile player...or the manager signing a high profile player?

    Chief Execs do not unilaterally sign players!

    The 'Rick Parry signed Robbie Keane' myth is just that: A myth, perpetuated by Benitez apologists and Benitez himself in a brazen attempt to relinquish personal responsibility for wasting £20m of the club's money and wasting the talents of a proven premiership goalscorer.

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  10. @Anon - you state that Robbie Keane was given a fair chance. Okay - Let’s take a look at the facts:

    Appearances - 33
    Substituted - 18 times
    On the bench - 10 times

    So - in 28 of Keanes's 33 appearances, he was either on the bench or substituted.

    Furthermore, whenever he scored goals it never seemed to make a difference:

    Oct 1: Scores v PSV
    Dropped the next game

    Oct 22: Scores v Atletico Madrid
    Subbed next game after 59 minutes.

    Nov 8: Scored 2 against West Brom
    Subbed next game after 59 minutes

    Dec 26: Scored 2 v Bolton
    Dropped the next game

    How exactly is a player supposed to settle in, build up confidence and gain an understanding with his team-mates if he is always being subbed/dropped?

    In light of the above, please explain, with examples, how Keane was given a fair chance by Benitez.

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  11. Dear Jamie,
    I do agree that we need to turn more draws into wins however, I've read your articles a few times and it's obvious you don't believe Benitez is the man to bring home no. 19. I don't recall you making suggestions for alternative managers who you believe can do a better job. I don't become attached to managers as the club is bigger than any one person but, considering the well documented difficulties at LFC, I think Rafa is doing brilliantly. One has to remember Chelsea who have changed 4 managers in the last couple of seasons and they have not won the title in this time despite the fact that they spend more on transfers than most. It has been proven in the EPL that the most successful clubs are those which have continuity in management.

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  12. @Anon - thanks for your views. You're right, I don't believe Benitez is the mabn to bring hom the title. I agree with you that continuity is a key factor in long-term success, but only if the continuity is worth it.

    During Gerard Houllier's reign, people were making the same argument: don't sack him; continuity etc, but it was clear Houllier was never going to win the league. I feel the same way about Benitez. If he couldn't win the league last year (when Liverpool had their best chance for 19 years), he never will.

    I'm aware I am in the minority with my view but I was in the minority at the end of the 2001-2002 season too, when Liverpool had just finished 2nd under Houllier. At that time, I argued that that was as far as he could take the club; I feel the same way now: last season is the furthest Benitez can take Liverpool.

    Of course, I sincerely hope I'm proven wrong.

    As for alternate managers - I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of world football, but are we to believe that there are no other Managers on the planet capable of being successful with Liverpool? Utter nonsense, as I'm sure you will agree.

    My personal choice since 2004 (and I've argued this here and in other places on the net) is Martin O'Neill. I have no doubt that he would bring home the premiership title with Liverpool.

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  13. We all know draws have to be converted into wins, but blaming Benitez for this without actually consulting the form of the players is reckless.

    Benitez sets up the team to win every game; to suggest otherwise is nonsense. He also beleives that drawing a game is better than losing one, a point that hardly requires mathematical justification.

    As for whether encouraging this creates a negative (read defensive) tendency in the squad, I don't think sending the team out 'Kevin Keegan style' would have resulted in a better overall league position.

    We cannot forget that, until the arrival of Torres and the peaking of Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun, Liverpool have not had a squad capable of breaking other teams down - let alone winning games convincingly.

    This is not Benitez's fault, and he is not ignorant of it either. It was the fault of his predecessor Gerard Houlier, who left the Spaniard with a painfully weak starting XI that contained perhaps only 4 players of PL/CL quality.

    Finally, and in relation to this, it is well known that Benitez and the LFC staff did *nothing* whatsoever different in the final three months of last season.

    They did not 'let the players off the leash', as many journalists and supporters have incorrectly speculated, and played exactly the same formations, using the same players, adopting the same approach towards scoring goals and retaining the same high tempo passing that has characterised all of Benitez's teams.

    In short, the upshoot in quality of Liverpool's play can be attributed only to the players themselves, who for one reason or another suddenly clicked during that Madrid game and played the football that the manager wanted them to.

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  14. I have seen many message boards with lots of arguments and finally, I have come across one where the comments make sense, are useful and intelligent. I am in Singapore and am looking so forward to the friendly this weekend, but like Jaimie, I am very reluctant to get my hopes up. True, we drew too many games, but some were totally winnable. The Everton draw for one, the Spurs loss another, the unlucky disallowed goal against Stoke early on. But, one must recognise that we had luck as well, and these things even out at the end. Great pride must be taken in our wins over MU and Chelsea. But we have to repeat this year in year out. We bungled twice against Arsenal. We should have won both (One with man advantage, the second a disastrous defensive display). How are we going to do it. I think the addition of Johnson is brilliant. Time and time again, our flank backs have let us down. They have improved, but still not the quality of champions. At least one must be strong (like Bosingwa, Evra, Cole). We unfortunately, had 2 dud's all season. Provided our lads stay fit, stay out of jail (all the best, Stevie) we have a chance, bt so do others. This coming season, my guess is that its going to be difficult to take points off the top 4/5 and all will drop points to each other. What we need is to turn those crazy draws to wins. Anonymous, mathematically, if we lose more and win the same number from those drawws, we actually gain. 4 draws = 4 points. 2 losses and 2 wins = 6 points. 8 draws = 8 points. 4 losses and 4 wins = 12 points. The league title would have been in the bag!!! So we should go all out to turn those away draws into wins (sacrifice defense to win) but make sure we don't draw so many at home. i agree with Jaime. I feel Rafa has to remove his gloated ego and do the simple Liverpool things. Quick passing was not his invention. Its always been the Liverpool way until Howler moved in. I think its Sammy Lee that made that change when he came in...and we went on a run!!! And hey, does it hurt to watch the game instead of write a book during a game? Suggestion to Rafa....sit in the Directors box. You get a better overall view of the game and where to make changes. Your changes are almost always mistifying. Anonymous 2.

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  15. Nice article, Jamie! I sometimes feel that Rafa does not take the EPL too seriously and that reflected by the selections and tactics that took place last season. It was only when Gerrard played as the supporting striker AND Rafa kept an unchanged side in consecutive matches that Liverpool finally got going. I posted an article on why Liverpool missed out on the title on my site. Looking back, as you rightly said, it was the draws that killed the title aspirations. So if Rafa stops tinkering and plays the team that finished so strongly last season, Liverpool will be lifting title no.19 come next season.

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  16. If i remember correctly Rafa consistently put out the same 11 last season except for when injuries occurred in the squad. Also, I see alot of reference to the Liverpool way and an emphasis on attack etc. I'm sure that Shankly, Paisley etc didn't discount the need for being solid defensively first. Like I have said many a time......no matter what the sport, defence wins championship. Solid defence sets the platform four ur attackers to flourish. Idon't always agree with Rafa but he has gone about constructing his team the right way.

    PS Jaimie - hasn't Liverpool been near if not at the top of goals scored the past 2 seasons? If so, why cant we use that history as our guide for the upcoming season. Since teams build from season to season why cant we assume that we will be more attacking based on the past 2 season? Why cant we assume, based on the fact that from the first time the manager came on board we have increased out point total and become more attacking each season, we'll be more attacking this year. Aren't any of those assumptions reasonable based on the 5yr history of Rafa at LFC?????

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  17. Just dugg this article on Digg.com.

    Well written.

    However, I disagree with your sentiments.

    Yes Liverpool draw too many games but I reckon given their rivals have changed greatly, Liverpool are favourites to take the title.

    I give my reasons on my blog

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  19. Jaimie, firstly, the reason Keane was dropped after Bolton game was because Rafa had made up his mind to sell him. Every goal and every minute he played extra would have meant more money to Tottenham. Rafa ultimately got rid of him quickly to cut his losses.

    Secondly, you can say all you want about stats, but in a lot of the games Keane was subbed, he had already played 60-80 minutes. And he missed tons of sitters. Now I believe people need time to settle in, and he did get plenty of time, but was Rafa holding his leg when he missed the sitters? If you miss shot after shot, you can't expect to play for a title-winning team.

    And also, how can you tell me that this was our best chance of winning the league when Man U won the league with fewer points the previous season.

    In 2006-07, Man U won the league with 83 points in 36 games (not counting the 2 games against Liverpool)

    In 2007-08, Man U won the league with 84 points in 36 games.

    In 2008-09, Man U won the league with 91 points in 36 games.

    Now, tell me, in which season was it easier to win the league?

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