Fan Diary #33 – What Were You Thinking Mssrs Babel and Benitez??

I’m more confused than anything else.

In my last post I asked that we maintain the good form, no matter what the outcome of the season. I should have added we must cling to clear-headed decision making from now to the end. The last two outings for Liverpool were derailed by bad judgement by Ryan Babel and (and I rarely say this in writing) Rafa Benitez. We cannot afford such setbacks. Our remaining season goals were brittle enough going into these two matches. Now what?

The first is an easy one. The first Benfica leg. What the hell were you thinking, Babel? The whistle was blown. The free kick was given. The player who tackled Torres was booked. Why would you ever put a hand to his face when you know the consequences? Alright, go in there and give him hell for roughing up your teammate. Yes. But keep your hands to yourself! Suddenly a match we were stamping our mark on (an offbeat, handsome goal from Agger already in and other chances in the works) was now in Benfica’s control. Of course the attention-starved ref might have been determined to change the match for Benfica later on, calling strange infringements while letting Benfica continue to beat up Torres without too much in the way of punishment. But nevertheless, there was no excuse for Babel to give the official such a simple excuse to reduce us to ten. If  Babel had stayed on, I can’t swear that we would have beaten Benfica at home, but I’m confident we’d have at least one more away goal in our bag going into tonight. We’re still in good shape, but we should be better off and still have Babel to choose from for this evening’s match.

Now: as for Birmingham, every pundit I’ve heard or read this week has been questioning Rafa’s decision to take Torres off. I’ll get to that. My real problem with Rafa came hours before when I went online to hunt down our starting eleven before that match. Agger benched. Mascherano benched. Babel benched. What is happening?? For Liverpool part of any good run of form these last couple of years comes when player rotation is minimal or nonexsistent. These players should have been instrumental in securing all the points against Birmingham.

While I’m still angry at Babel for going all Godfather part I on the Benfica man’s cheek, the kid is still playing some of the best football I’ve ever seen him pull off in a Liverpool kit. (I think Sammy Lee pulled him aside and mentioned that football is actually a team sport and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pass the ball from time to time rather than running at three defenders whenever he get’s possession. Nobody’s ever thought to mention this to Babel.) And Rafa certainly can’t argue he’s resting Babel for Benfica since Babel is suspended from that match. Instead the kid plays the supersub role once again which usually lends itself to the tunnel-visioned, I’m going to do it all by myself side of Ryan Babel that is useless to us. I would have started him. Rest somebody else for today’s match that he can’t play in anyway.

Then there’s Agger. Our defense it at it’s best when we play the same back four as much as possible and allow their chemistry and understanding of each other’s positioning dictate how we break up the other side’s attack. Now I love Soto Krygiacos. He’s been massive. He’s been dependable. He’s made the difference when we’ve needed him. He’s pulled the spirit of Sami Hyypia out of the Anfield ether and made some essential stops when we’ve needed them most. But if Agger’s fit enough to be on the bench, he should be in there with Carra, Insua and Johnson, carrying on the rapport they’ve enjoyed since Agger came back fit. That chemistry and understand is the glue that keeps our defense  tight and impenetrable. The marking and awareness against Birmingham was dismal. With Agger in we would have had a lot more coherence back there and Birmingham wouldn’t have had that ridiculous chance.

Mostly though, why rest Mascherano? Let me rephrase. Why start Lucas? I know Rafa has endless faith in Lucas that comes from somewhere invisible to the rest of us when we watch him on matchday, but if we look back at this miserable season, much of our struggling involved having Lucas as a starting midfielder, and our recent results (which apart from Benfica and United have been positive) have relied on him returning to his (proper) role as a squad player. To thrive, this side needs backbone and spark in the midfield. Lucas provides neither. Mascherano lays down the former. Aquilani is starting to show of the latter. Gerrard has both in vast supply, even when he’s not at his best. We should have started Mascherano against Birmingham. Alongside Gerrard. He was fit enough for the bench, he could have come off later on. With Mascherano in we wouldn’t have had all that space on the right when Birmingham got there strange goal (yes, the dude scored with his crotch). With Mascherano there we would have had someone to track back and cover for Johnson who then could have gotten forward and given us the width to break down a ten-men-behind-the-ball side, which was, I thought, the big reason for paying all that money for Johnson. We certainly don’t get that insurance policy with Lucas.

Yes, I was taken aback by Rafa bringing off Torres for N’Gog ( Torres couldn’t seem to figure it out either, looking somewhat confused when he came off and outright irritated when N’Gog missed three clear chance that Torres would have buried), but I was already perplexed by the Gaffer’s plans to rest key players for Europa when we need the points for fourth and when Birmingham has already given so many headaches to the top sides, Torres coming off just added to my confusion. It didn’t generate it.

Ultimately, these men play better when they are playing a lot. In past seasons we’ve worried about Liverpool being in too many competitions, but some of the best performances come when they’ve got a heavy workload. See: 2005. Not only did resting players against Birmingham do us damage domestically, I think everyone would be far sharper for tonight had something near tonight’s expected starting eleven been run out on Sunday. I know Rafa’s got a lot on his mind with the struggles we’ve had, wondering how he’s going to afford new players this summer, and so on. But it’s time to look at our strengths and play to them. That means putting the best starting eleven we have available out every fixture. If a top player starts from the bench, we’re in trouble. We’ve got no more room to slip up this season. And that scares me.

10 thoughts on “Fan Diary #33 – What Were You Thinking Mssrs Babel and Benitez??”

  1. I agree that Liverpool’s decisions were unsound and that the ref may have judged a bit more heavily towards the home team, but really? You’re going to tell me that Benfica was beating Torres up? I’m a Chelsea fan, I know about diving… we have Drogs for that matter, but seriously, that was the worst display of diving I have seen. Torres went down if anyone so much as breathed on him. It really became disgusting to watch.

  2. I think that you are completely wrong. Rafa put Benayoun in the squad against Birmingham because Yossi need to play before the Benfica match. He has not been playing for a long time. What do you think without a competitive match in his legs, he will be out to challenge Benfica. You are talking about the substitution of Torres, I think it was a good idea. Have you see Ngog? he was lively but unfortunately could not scored the second goal. Rafa was thinking about the Benfica match. If I was given the choice of 4th place and Europa league I would choose the Europa league because we need trophies not honorary place in the league. Have you seen Arsenal, what did they won since 2004, nothing – do you think their fans are happy? Today I saw that Rafa said he made mistakes and I agree although I think he is the best manager we have(on of the very best in Europe).One of my main criticism of Rafa is that he bought too much foreign players. Now that he has opened up and admit his mistakes, he will learn from them.

  3. May be Rafa is leaving this summer and want to take Torres along with … thats why he dont want the liverpool to finish in top 4 …..

  4. Rafa’s decisions have been suspect all year. As you point out, he still has some strange belief that Lucas has ability, and like many of us Liverpool fans, I still don’t see it. And taking Torres off for N’gog, who obviously can’t score in a whorehouse, was perplexing. Did you see Gerrard’s facial expression when he saw it was Torres being called off? He was completely deflated and confused. Rafa has lost the belief of his players and their form shows that. If we had any chance at 4th place in the EPL this year before going into this match, we certainly don’t have a realistic chance now, especially with a fixture against Chelski coming up.

    The question is will Torres be satisfied not playing in the Champions League and playing in the consolation UEFA Cup for a year? Must be very tempting to follow Alonzo’s lead and ask to get the hell out…and I wouldn’t be surprised to have Masch and possibly even Gerrard decide to do the same. They can see it is a sinking ship with a lunatic Rafa at the helm better than anyone.

    And it pains me to say all this. A lot of diehard Liverpool fans still stand by Rafa, and just prefer the easy “blame Statler and Waldorf” for all our problems. But our owners aren’t choosing lineups and substitutions and aren’t dictating our “meaningless control” style of play either. People need to wake up and realize that other than a miracle in the second half in Istanbul, Rafa hasn’t really brought us the glory a team of our caliber should achieve…

  5. Mate, the reason you lost to Birmingham was because you had bugger all penetration going forward. Gerrard’s been a shadow of the player all this season, and Torres was pretty much anonymous and rightly substituted. I’m sure he would’ve buried any one of the three chances that Ngog had, but at least Ngog was getting himself into those positions. But to suggest that the simple inclusion of Mascherano would have prevented Birmingham’s goal is clutching at straws… Liverpool don’t deserve to finish fourth this season, they’re a team comprised of mediocre players that struggle when Torres and Gerrard are struggling for fitness and form.

    1. Mediocre players? I think the most frustration with L’pool fans is that this is almost the same team that nearly beat out Man United for the Premier League last season (and last year Man United made very few mistakes). This season, Man United lost a couple really good players and are still fighting for the top spot, meanwhile Liverpool suffered fewer losses to the squad, but their cohesivity as a team has disappeared.

  6. This article was a blogger’s reaction to the british media looking for something to talk about. Torres was tired and wasn’t getting himself into good positions, N’Gog was. There was a reason Liverpool played better when Torres left.

    Second, there have been mistakes by the owners, Rafa and the players this season. Gerrard hasn’t performed well and it has showed. Liverpool will be lucky to get fourth, but doubting a managers decision and not considering the reasoning is a waste of time.

    If Maxi would have put the ball in the back of the net, which he could have done multiple times, would anyone have cared that Torres was subbed?

  7. Well, Lucas, everyone’s fall guy, did not look too bad tonight, did he? Anyone ever considered that he looks so poor at times because he is following the manager’s instructions? He was young player of the year while in Brasil, hardly a rubbish footballer. And some of his passing against Benfica tonight was as good as anything Aquilani has shown and he does not get injured when the wind blows. People should get off his back, and N’gog’s, young players need time and they have shown more than enough to suggest that they are as good as anyone their age, playing in their positions, in the Premier League. It’s the manager’s negative tactics that are the problem. Get Babel on the right, where he can run at people, get Kuyt up with Torres, to do some of his running, keep Torres in the middle, not drifting left and right, and put Stevie in the Masch, with Lucas an ABLE deputy. Maxi on the left, covered by Yossi, that team is as good as anyone in the league. Most of all, get them to attack! Men in the box!! So often we play and there is no one in the opposition box once Torres goes out wide.

    1. Gab, you make some very good points. I still think Lucas and N’gog are way over their heads at this moment in their careers…yeah, they might develop into something, but right now they are just too average.

      I do think Rafa needs to unleash the lads. His control-style of play favors ineffective possession above all else, with lots of backpassing and taking 4-5 passes to switch fields. That means we take forever to get into the attacking third, allowing defenses loads of time to set in their zone. We are way to slow and way too deliberate too much of the time, and that makes us predictable and easy to defend.

  8. Liverpool’s problem in the PL is Rafa Benitez. After 6 years at Anfield he still hasn’t figured out how to manage the team domestically. He buys players that, while talented, are not suited for the PL.

    Benitez never seems to learn from past mistakes and stubbornly sticks with his gameplan even if it isn’t working. He never makes a change at halftime and most of the time makes changes at a specific point in the game that was preplanned. There is no creativity allowed with Benitez. His conservative and often negative tactics are more suited for European matches. He studied management in Italy which is where he will do well. His tactics will never win Liverpool a PL title. People forget that the two trophies Liverpool have won under Benitez were won in a penalty shootout which is more of a lottery than anything else. So, Benitez at Liverpool means more agony for the supporters in not winning the PL title.

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