Liverpool fans voted Xabi Alonso man of the match against Newcastle. Clairvoyant passing and two shots from distance that ricocheted off the bar: Alonso was a beast against the Magpies. But I suspect it was his temporary martyrdom that won Alonso the honor over some of the other candidates. Xabi took the full force of Joey Barton’s thuggish tackle on 87 minutes before being stretchered off the pitch.
If it hadn’t been for that sacrifice, I think the big contender might have been Yossi Benayoun.
Yossi was unstoppable on Sunday. Twisting left and right to leave United defenders in the dust. Popping up in every part of the attacking third. Shuttling fierce balls into the box from wide positions. Opening the scoring. Benayoun was man of the match for me. In the late part of the season he’s been one of Liverpool’s best players.
At some point this season, Yossi’s game opened wide. In the early part of the year, he struggled for place. His game confidence seemed deflated from so much time on the bench. But Liverpool’s results were so consistently fantastic early on, Rafa Benitez had scuttled his rotation policy and the fine form of Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera meant Liverpool’s favorite Israeli international wasn’t seeing the quantity of pitch time he’d enjoyed the previous season.
But as the year went on and Liverpool’s form dipped with an abundance baffling draws sneaking in with the Reds’ collection of outstanding wins (Liverpool pulled doubles over Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid), Yossi found his way into the team more and more.
Yossi began finding form and causing threats which earned him a series of starts in February which culminated in his brilliant header against Real Madrid at San Bernabeu, earning Liverpool an away goal and a lead to bring back to Anfield. He scored again two matches later (his next start) in the 2-0 win over Sunderland.
Just as Benayoun found winning form, injury struck. He missed out on the second leg against Real as well as the big victories over Manchester United and Aston Villa. I feared injury would break up Yossi’s run of form. But he assuaged my fears in stoppage time against Fulham, when he took the ball deep into the box, turned his man and fired an angled shot past Mark Schwarzer to secure all three points and keep Liverpool in the title race. His teammates chased him down and piled themselves upon him.
He’s had his droughts, but Yossi Benayoun has been an important player for Liverpool since he joined the Reds in 2007. Arriving in the same transfer window as goal-scoring phenomenon Fernando Torres, Benayoun’s contributions can seem overshadowed. But his importance is undeniable.
Wily, creative and relentless, Benayoun is at his best coming in from the right. His cross has improved over the seasons with Liverpool, but his ability to cut into the box from out wide, turning defenders and creating chances is his best weapon. In the early part of the season, when his form languished at times, he hesitated to take the shot in traffic, often laying it off to someone else. But now that his confidence soaring and he’s getting his goals in, Yossi will try anything from anywhere. The element of surprise is always on his side as his body language gives no hints as to which way he’s going to twist next and at which momment he will fire the ball.
With the departure of Robbie Keane and David N’Gog yet to show what he can do for Liverpool on a regular first-team basis, Yossi role a proven goalscorer who will not rest is invaluable.
In the long term, Benayoun is going to prove to have been a massive bargain. Hopefully, West Ham don’t call and ask for more money as he continues to astound.