22 Oct 2009

RISING FROM THE ASHES: 10 ways to save Liverpool's season

Yesterday, I posted a list of eleven reasons why I believe Liverpool have struggled this season. Today, it's time to look to forward positively and come up with a way out of the current mess. Yes, things are bleak, but I do not think that the season is over. In fact, I actually think Liverpool can still put in a title challenge, but only if certain changes are made and previous mistakes are not repeated.

What follows is merely my opinion. Actually, that's not completely true - I am sure there are tens of thousands of Liverpool fans who think the same way as me. My views on this issue are not unique; it's just common sense really.

1. Play 'aces in their places'

No more square pegs in round holes: That means no more left backs playing in central midfield and no more attacking midfielders playing in defensive-midfield roles (i.e. Lucas). Play the best available team for every game and use the players in their best/most effective positions.

2. Move Gerrard to central-midfield whilst Aquilani settles in.

Whilst Alberto Aquilani is settling-into the side and finding his feet, Gerrard should be moved into central-midfield to play alongside Javier Mascherano. I've explained why Gerrard should move to CM in previous articles so no need to repeat myself here.

Given Aquilani's injury history, plunging him into the hustle and bustle of midfield - a position where injuries are prevalent - may not be the best idea in the short-term. Let him play further ahead for a few games and protect him a little.

And we shouldn't forget that this is the Premiership, home of hackers and 'physical' football. I have no doubt there will be hatchet-men on certain teams just waiting to have a go at Aquilani, knowing that if he gets injured again, Liverpool will be plunged into further problems.

Another thing to take into consideration is Gerrard and Mascherano are used to each other; Aquilani/Mascherano is an untested partnership. Given the team's current predicament, perhaps it is best to play fmailair partnerships in a bid to halt the current slide.

Aquilani is renowned for his passing ability and ling-range shooting prowess - playing slightly ahead of Gerrard could allow him to utilise his skills in an area of the pitch that is arguably less pressurises than central midfield.

What we (surely) don't want to see is Aquilani being forced into a defensive tackling game right at the start of his Liverpool career, especially upon a return from a long-term injury.

So - I see the best team/formation for Liverpool over the next few weeks as:

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

Johnson --------------- Carra ------ Skrtel/Agger ------------ Aurelio

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

----------------------------------------------- Gerrard

Kuyt -------------- ----------- Aquilani ------------------- Benayoun

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

And once Aquilani has settled-in, Liverpool's starting formation line-up for most games should - injuries permitting - be:

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

Johnson --------------- Carra ------ Skrtel/Agger ------------ Aurelio

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

----------------------------------------------- Aquilani

Kuyt ------------------------- Gerrard ------------------- Benayoun

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

This leads on to the next point:

3. Allow Gerrard and Aquilani to alternate.

Once Aquilani is settled in the Premiership, he would move back into midfield, but in the short term, there's nothing stopping Gerrard and Aquilani alternating positions, is there? This would add a level of unpredictability to Liverpool's currently predictable pattern of play.

4. Use Lucas...differently.

Lucas is not a defensive/holding midfielder, and playing him as one is a waste of his talents. Ideally, he should be playing further up the field where he can creatively influence play.

With Aquilani and Gerrard in the team, this will be a little more difficult. As promising as Lucas is, I just don't see room for him as a starter in the team if Aquilani stays fit. if it was down to me, I would do the following:

Against the best defences:

i) Aquilani + Gerrard.
ii) If Aquilani doesn't start - Gerrard in CM. Benayoun behind Torres.
iii) WHAT BENITEZ WOULD DO - Aquilani/Lucas in CM. Gerrard behind Torres. Benyoun/Riera on the left.

Against weaker defences:

i) Aquilani + Gerrard.
ii) If Aquilani is rested/doesn't start - Gerrard in CM. Benayoun behind Torres.
iii) WHAT BENITEZ WOULD DO - Lucas in CM. Gerrard behind Torres. Benayoun on the left.

Liverpool have to always start their available best TEAM, which for me is:

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

Johnson --------------- Carra ------ Agger ------------ Aurelio

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

----------------------------------------------- Aquilani

Kuyt -------------- ----------- Gerrard ------------------- Benayoun

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

Having said that, I would not mind seeing the following team either:

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

Johnson --------------- Carra ------ Agger ------------ Aurelio

---------------------------- Gerrard

----------------------------------------------- Aquilani

Kuyt -------------- ----------- Benayoun ------------------- Riera

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

Lucas has to become a squad player.

5. Stick with a settled formation.

No more 343 formations! Stick to formations the team is comfortable with, i.e. 4231 or 442. Rightly or wrongly, those are two formations played most under Benitez. The team is used to them and functions better within those formations. So stop changing them! If injuries occurr, we have the players to keep those formations going.

6. Stick with a settled defence.

Liverpool's defensive problems are well documented this season, but nothing is going to improve unless there is stability at the heart of defence. Choose a first choice partnership and stick with it. If that's going to be Carra - Agger then let them play together every game and build up a rapport/understanding. Don't change it unless there is a serious drop of form/someone needs to be rested.

The same principle applies to the full-backs: Choose a left back and stick with it! Give the chosen defensive unit time to gel and grow together without constant changes. Of course, form dictates selection, but showing confidence in the defence will, in my view, lead to increasingly confident performances.

7. Stop making substitutions too late

If something isn't working, adapt earlier. Don't wait until the 70th/80th minute to try and change things. Also, stop making defensive/illogical substitutions. Example: Gerrard went off against Lyon; Benitez brought on Aurelio. Why not bring on Riera or Babel? Why not make a positive change instead of a defensive one? It was a home game - what did Liverpool have to fear?! Another example: benyoun being take off against Lyon with 5 minutes to go. WHY? Completely unnecessary.

8. Use Ryan Babel on the right

Whenever Babel plays, he should play on the right wing. How many times do we have to endure Babel on the left wing before Benitez realises it is not his position?! Babel has played well on the right on the rare occasions he's played there, so play to his STRENGTHS not his WEAKNESSES.

Dirk Kut should not be undroppable; if he is having a bad game, replace him with Babel.

9. Start displaying a winning mentality

Players and the manager should stop talking about 'lack of confidence' in the press. This is not a positive thing for anyone and is not conducive to a winning mentality. Examples:

Benitez after Sunderland:

"I think at times we lacked shape and the confidence of the players in these new positions wasn’t great".

Fabio Aurelio:

"Football is mostly confidence. If the team is winning you have lots and players try different things and you know that things will happen in your favour. At the moment, that's not happening."

As Bill Shankly said:

"A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are".

That doesn't mean going around and boasting that you're the best - it means cultivating a steely determination and unshakeable self-belief, both individually and collectively. Are Liverpool players displaying this on and off the pitch at the moment? I would argue no.

10. No more criticising players in public

This is self-explanatory. Keep criticism behind closed doors and present a united front.

If Liverpool beat United on Sunday it could be the launch pad for a positive run that could take the club close to the title again. I'll admit, it seems unlikely, but as I argued earlier in the week, it has been done before. And going on the club's previous history, the title is definitely still a possibility.


Current points total: 15
Current number of games won: 5
No of games won per season under Benitez:

04-05: 17
05-06: 25
06-07: 20
07-08: 21
08-09: 25

Average: 22

Games left to play: 29
Winning PL points totals over the last 10 years:

00-01: 80
01-02: 87
02-03: 83
03-04: 90
04-05: 92
05-06: 91
06-07: 89
07-08: 87
08-09: 90


* Win 20/draw 6/lose 3 - FINAL POINTS TOTAL: 81

* Win 20/draw 8/lose 1 - FINAL POINTS TOTAL: 83

* Win 20/draw 9 - FINAL POINTS TOTAL: 84

* Win 22/draw 5/lose 2 - FINAL POINTS TOTAL: 86

* Win 22/draw 7 - FINAL POINTS TOTAL: 88

* Win 23/draw 6 - FINAL POINTS TOTAL: 90

Liverpool finished on 86 points last season, thus none of the above eventualities are beyond the realm of possibility. We should see the season as a whole: It's mostly the case that top teams lose games at different points in the season. Perhaps Liverpool have just lost all their games in one block instead of having the losses spread out over 9 months...?

if the simple things are done correctly and mistakes are no longer made, I can see Liverpool going on a long, positive run.

If the same mistakes continue to be made, this season will be over sooner rather than later.


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  1.   what is the problem of LFC for the moment ?
     well cara he lose confidence ,sometimes he should have to be at the bench . what abt the other greeks star ,is he injured ? he is not bad.
    lucas can't play 90 min ,when he comes from bench ,he do many postive thing as new energy e.g last year when gerry off at everton match .
      MOST important things we need one best attacker who can play with torres. or give more chance for babel. left back insua it is really sure fabio is better than ensua . MOST time give chance for aurelio than insua.
       kuyt he is best but depending of the match when he doesn't fell to much change him.
      i am not great fun of benitez he is good as he is bad ,sometimes he is stubborn.
                  new italy boy aquiliany makes the differenc ,always missing alonso.
              ok perhabs this will be good for lfc next match man utd.
        aurelio             agger ,skertal        jhonson
                          gerrard if he is ok if no lucas
                  kuyt                ngog            benayoun
       aurelio             agger     cara              jhonson
                       masch      lucas
                             kuyt and ngog
     insua        agger cara       jhonso if he fits or dagen
                      masch  aurelio like last year at midfield
        benyoun     kuyt          babel    

  2. Spot on Jamie. I have a question for you, but first id just want to agree - I think that a manager should be UNBIASED. so therefore all the players should be seen in the same way and they should all be equally droppable. Benitez used to drop or rotate Gerrard, he did it with Torres for a while so he most definately should be doing the same with Kuyt and Lucas!

    My question is this - even if we have the players in the right position do you think Benitez allows them to play in the right way?

    An example is when liverpool defend corners - he pulls all 11 in to the box, or at best leaves just Torres up front. therefore if we clear the, ball it comes straight back at us. This puts Liverpool on a back foot and its too defensive - especially given the fact that we need to win games!

    Another example is how he refuses to let the wingers play as wingers - for him the primary concern is tracking back, staying narrow. Reira, Babel and others who've worked with Benitez hav all described their frustration with his focus on defence. We dont get width in our team as much as we need because of his tactics and defensive nature.

    So my question is - is Benitez the problem? if he is, then even selecting the right players wont be enough to turn around the season, because he wont let them play in the right way. The only time Liverpool had some freedom is in the last few months of last season, when it looked like the title was out of reach anyways. So can Liverpool fix enough just by playing the right players, or do they need a change in how Benitez tells them to play??

  3. Good article but Point #8 i'll go for reira on the L or Benaypun/ kuyt instead of Babel.  We should cash in on Babel as soon as possible

  4. "Today, it's time to look to forward positively and come up with a way out of the current mess."

    I can't believe my eyes! And I can't believe I'm saying this but, soom good points there Jamie, and I agree with you on most of them! Some of the recent criticism must have sunk in.....

    Good points about Aquilani - the last thing we need is for him to get another injury, which is more likely when not fully fit. The only problem may be that if Gerrard does have an on going problem with his groin Aquilani may have to slot in the middle anyway.

    Your points about the drfence are valid for the future. However, Agger has only just become available so Rafa hasn't had too many options, until now.

    Good points though!

  5. I'd just like to say i think babel would be a great player if he had been playing for Arsenal or Man Utd, even Chelsea. Instead he plays for Benitez - never as a striker, never as a two man strikeforce with Torres. Doesnt anyone remember what Babel did to Arsenal in the champions League? Doesnt anyone remember the hatrick in the record 8-0 victory over Besiktas in the Champions League??

    Babel is a great player who is slowly being destroyed by Benitez. Im a Liverpool fan and i've got to the stage of wanting Babel to leave so that his talent isnt wasted. Personally i think he'd do brilliantly at Arsenal - his pace and 1 on 1 finishing is perfect for a striker.

  6. Some good points.  Just a couple of things I would contest.

    Aurelio came on as he is a natural left footer - for crosses etc and set pieces.  I'm sure that is the reason.  Riera was injured I think and Babel, well we know about Babel on the left.

    As for Benny coming off - I'm sure with the current plight he wanted to not risk him being injured in the last 5-10 mins.

    I can't wait to see Aquilani and I totally agree with you - I would love to see him right up behind Torres.  I sense big things from him.  The other good thing is he is an unknown - teams won't really know what to expect from him.

    And the other thing - let's hope for a huge atmosphere on Sunday and a really energetic performance.  I hope we don't let Utd settle and we really give a good show.  We need to press them from the off, get in their faces.

  7. Johnson on the Left, Aurelio on the Right ?

  8. Hi,

    Very good submission you have made here i must really confess.  For me and lots of dedicated Kop fans here in NIGERIA, we feel disturb and uncomfortable about Liverpool woes this past 3-4 weeks.   But i think there is a time when every great club (like Liverpool FC) go thru some tough moments - afterall the world is facing economic recession & melt down right now .

    For me, Liverpool pre-season was not rousy and that perhaps gave me a hint of how the season was going to turn out (at least in the first half).

    The next three/four games are very dauting (ManU, Arsenal, ManCity, Everton, Lyon again) and even though the Lyon loss may have been devastating, Rafa and the boys need to get their confidence back first against ManU on sunday.

    Whatever happens, the Kop is a great team and we (Nigerian fans) only ask that the manager doesn't receive the big stick regardless of the what this season turn out to be.  Like we say down-hear, UP LIVER FOR LIVE!!!

  9.                                           Reina

       Kelly              Carra                               Agger                    Aurelio


       Johnson                           Aquilani                                 Yossi


  10. Slip of the key, sorry. Aurelio is obviously at left back.

  11. I rate Kuyt and tolerate Lucas but i do believe Kelly is a better orthodox right back and like Johnson is two footed, this allows Johnson the freedom to attack with protection behind him. I understand the point of protecting Aquilani afer his injury, yet i feel this line up offer's more fluidity of play.

  12. Good article man, and the forecast of the wins is eminently possible. 

  13. Hi Hasan,

    I agree with you - Benitez stifles the self-expression of certain players and there is too much empahsis on defending for attacking players.  yes, attacking players should defend but not to the extent Benitez expects.  The likes of Dalglish, barnes, Beardsley et al didn't have ti run 50 miles a game; they were encouraged to do damage at the other end of the filed. On top of that, we usually play with at least 6 defensive minded players on the pitch anyway (!) - 4 defenders and 2 (ostensibly) holding mids.  As such, that should be enough to allow the attacking players to do what they do best: attack.

    I don't think we're going to see any change in approach from benitez though.  Today he has been saying that the side has to improve defensively, so that means everyone will (probably) be defending a hell of a lot more

  14. I agree re Babel - I've argued several times in the past that Benitez has mishandled him.  yes, he has his faults but Benitez's job is to develp the player and get the best out of him.  In this regard, Benitez has failed spectacularly.

    When discussing Ryan Babel, I always return to the same fact: In his first season, he was dropped to the bench TEN TIMES after scoring goals.  he was never once rewarded for scoring by being given a starting position.

    Any way you slice it, this is disgraceful man-management.  And it hasn't changed since either; Almost without exception, every time Babel scores he is dropped for the next game.  he needs to leave and go to a team where the manager displays some faith in him and treats him fairly.

  15. I have a feeling that Aquilani's best position could be behind Torres, and the best line-up for the team would be Gerrard in CM. We'll probably never see it though.

  16. Hi there.  Thanks for your comments.  I think you make a great point about pre-season.  It was lousy, and the malaise displayed by the team has continued into the season. People say that preseason doesn't matter but it does.  It's a chance to build momentum and hit the ground running.

  17. Great idea!  Kelly was great the other night; Johnson on the right is a good option.  You know it's never going to happen though, especially since Kuyt is on of Benitez's favourites.

  18. Definitely Yogi - I think Liverpool are capable of achieving at least one of those forecasts.

  19. As i said Jaimie, we need something different and we have it in the squad to do it.  Just maybe Rafa will will bowl a googly to Utd, this is the kind of game we need to focus the lads. If we were away to wigan i'd be more worried but this will make the lads switch on.

  20. For sunday game both gerrard and aquilani will be missing ...

    My team for sunday's game

    Kelly------------Carra------------- Agger---------------- Aurelio



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

  21. Reds fan in the USA. Fun stuff, this football. Of course I just watch the Liverpool on television, but because I have a high definition projector, I watch every match Super Sized on the wall...

    I agree with your points 1, 5, 6, and most especially, 7. It does appear changes are made a bit late.

    But, I feel the players are given ample opportunities on this club, including Babel, and are not collectively good enough. If I have to keep watching Lucas bumble into other players on the pitch like a donkey I may go mad...

  22. Without Torres:
    Johnson          Agger              Carragher      Aurelio

    Kuyt                                                            Riera
    Without Gerrard:
    Johnson             Agger           Carragher        Aurelio

    Kuyt/Babel                                                          Riera
                             Benayoun          Babel/Kuyt

  23. Bloody hell are u alright jamie being positive i like it mate . Good article we need more stuff like this .

  24. Hi, i'm a liverpool fan & i think that we(liverpool) can defeat man utd only if Rafa will use Babel on the right flank for 90min. See my line up for tomorrow's match:  1.Reina 2.Johnson 3.Aurelio 4.Mascherano 5.Skrtel 6.Agger 7.Babel 8.Kuyt 9.Torres 10.Gerard 11.Benayoun