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Fan Diary #6: Yossi Benayoun And My Football Ulcer


I was a little concerned coming into the last fixture. It wasn’t because Burnley has already beaten United and Everton. It wasn’t because Burnley aren’t afraid to attack. I saw these things as healthy signs for Liverpool.  Liverpool usually do well against attacking sides. And Liverpool have a habit of playing to the level of their opponent. This is what saw us convincingly beat United and Chelsea twice in the League and dispatch Real with prolific comfort in Europe while being completely unable to break down Stoke City. If Burnley had come to play the let’s-park-ten-men-behind-the-ball-and-pray-for-a-chance-at-a-breakaway-anti-football that helped teams strip points off Liverpool throughout last season, yes, my football ulcer would flare up as I anticipated 90 minutes of crashing against the Burnley wall. But Burnley came to attack. Everyone knew they would. This should bring out the best in Liverpool, I said.

But I was concerned. I was concerned because Javier Mascherano was out. He’d picked up a knock with Argentina. Rafa would be forced to pull Gerrard back into a more defensive role. With Aquilani still unready and Mascherano out, Gerrard was the only choice for holding down the midfield.

Now, I’ve been screaming for Gerrard to be pulled back into the midfield. With Xabi Alonso’s bag of long passes gone to Spain, there’s been no electricity coming out of the central areas. Lucas sprinkles short passes  about when what we need are long balls sprayed to the attackers so they can launch themselves at goal before the defense knows what’s happening.

Dispite the brilliance of the Gerrard/Torres partnership, I want to see Stevie in the midfield again, at least until Aquilani comes in fit and proves himself in a Red shirt. But I want to see Gerrard next to Mascherano. Not in place of him. After Pepe Reina, Mascherano is the player who will give me the largest heart attack if he picks up a serious injury. Liverpool have done big teams without Torres and Gerrard. It’s not ideal to lose one of those two, but it is manageable. But there is no suitable cover for Javier Mascherano. The midfield loses its backbone when he’s out.

My concern was Gerrard being forced to help Lucas keep down the midfield and not allowed to get forward often enough. If he’d been next to Mascherano, we could trust Masch to hold down that fort and give Stevie freedom. But not Lucas who is about as resilient as a Fabergé egg.

Then one wonders where the goals will come from. If Torres is too isolated, the defenders will simply swamp him out.

Enter Yossi Benayoun.

Yossi Benayoun was on fire. Part of it was all that space the attacking Burnley left for him to eat up. Part of it was he has a knack for coming up big when needed.

He simply refused to give up or slow down at any point. His hunger for goal was all-consuming. He easily could have had five or six goals to his name Saturday rather than just a hat trick and a brilliant assist.

Like, Torres, Benayoun gushes forth unpredictable movement. His body language is such that defenders can’t know which way he’s going to twist at any given moment or when he’s going to pull the trigger. With Torres this is a series of fluid motions – Torres paints his way across the pitch. With Benayoun it is a series of jerky ones. Yossi carves out a zig-zagging trench to goal. But both approaches work when these men are in form.

With his first goal Yossi twisted two defenders out of the way and pulled the trigger without really setting up the ball. None of the defenders, the keeper or myself thought he was near the moment of finishing. But before anyone realized it was a shot, the ball was in. The Yossi Benayoun Sucker Punch™.

He did the same thing with his deflected shot that turned into the Kuyt goal. He fired out of nowhere. Most strikers would have taken one more touch (and how we curse them when they take too many), they would have teed themselves up a little before firing. But Yossi just swept the ball toward goal. It was a great shot. Powerful. Dangerous. The keeper was fortunate to keep it out. Thankfully, Kuyt was there to tap in the rebound.

Last season, Yossi, a player I’ve always rated, had to fight for his place. It was between him and Kuyt on the right and Kuyt was just too integral and the team was playing too well to make a change. And Yossi had some injury concerns as well. But when he finally got a chance, Yossi exploded. It seemed he was always there to make a difference. Even if he wasn’t scoring he was keeping defenders off balance and drawing them away from Torres and Stevie. When he was scoring the goals they were brilliant and essential. Culminating, of course, in his stoppage-time winner against Fulham. The desktop of my computer is still the picture of everybody jumping on Yossi after that goal. You have to know there’s an Israeli international under the heap to appreciate the meaning of the image.

The real joy I take from this is Liverpool have a killer formation even without Aquilani being ready for action. When Mascherano comes back, Lucas can be benched. Masch and Gerrard can hold down the middle. Masch will allow Gerrard to get forward, but even if Stevie tough sides force Stevie to stay deep and distribute, his vision – parallelled only by Xabi – will seek out the open attackers. Benayoun and Kuyt are both in great form along with Riera and Torres. The goals will come.

If Aquilani comes in and lives up to expectations, the worse case scenerio for Rafa is he goes back to having to choose between Kuyt and Yossi. Both can do the job. There are worse problems to have.

I feel great after the Burnley result. Liverpool will still have to prove this system can work against more experienced sides, but I have faith. Bring on the Champions League and bring on West Ham. I am excited for the upcoming fixtures.

Thank you, Yossi Benayoun: my football ulcer is, for now, abated.

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  1. FK

    September 16, 2009 at 10:05 am

    I have long championed the inclusion of yossi in the ‘gerrard’ role behind torres, particularly in the absence of aquilani. I would now like rafa to persevere with this selection . yossi adds much needed flair and creativity to our side; i think rafa worries about playing him in away games, but i personally think yossi has a good touch and keeps the ball well so would help in away games. he also does track back when he has played on the left. as an intelligent player, he plays on the same wavelength and dirk, gerrard and torres so all should benefit. i think we are, as a team, better set up because we have gerrards drive and dynamism from midfield. it is clear that gerrard best position is behind torres, but i would argue that for the team he is best deployed in centre midfield so that we can fot in an extra creative player like yossi.
    also, i hope people begin to get off lucas’ back now. he’s only 22, and i think has largely done ok this season. i t hink he’s currently a good player for the squad and in time will develop into an excellent midfielder. lets give him that time – it’s unlike liverpool fans to be soo impatient with young players!

  2. FK

    September 16, 2009 at 8:14 am

    On the whole a good summary. But, Yossi has generally played for us from a position starting on the left, not really a right sided player.

  3. JP

    September 15, 2009 at 1:51 am

    I’m so impressed by Yossi Benayoun. He’s dribbling and first touch is one of the most underrated in the Prem. And he comes up big in key games (goals against Fulham and Real Madrid easily come to mind, but let’s not forget his other key contributions, like that home fixture against Chelsea last season when he dispossessed Ashley Cole and slid a pass to Torres for the stoppage time goal that sealed the win).

    I also agree with your argument to stick Gerrard back in the midfield with Masch (akin to Xabi Alonso last year) and start Yossi behind Torres (akin to Gerrard last year). Lucas can still be a solid, if not decent player, but like most Reds fans out there I’d rather he doesn’t start. He can be used as an understudy in the event Mascherano gets injured, or as a 75th minute defensive sub if we’re up by a goal and need to park the bus to keep the scoreline that way.

    If Lucas wants first team action, he’d have to prove it in the FA or Carling Cup. As for the whole Torres/Gerrard strike partnership, that plan will have to be put on hold, at least until Aquilani starts playing, or unless Yossi has something to say about it.

  4. Thomas

    September 14, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Been saying this since the start of the season.

    Lucas is crap. He may become good down the line. But if Liverpool have serious ambitions this season, they need to drop Gerrard back until Aqui is fit again.

  5. Paul(No1Fan)

    September 14, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Play Yossi every week!

  6. Gaz

    September 14, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Yup. Whatever he does with that behind-the-striker role, one thing is certain: Gerrard needs to be back in the midfield.

    Put Lucas up there for all I care, just get us a little more solid in the back.

  7. Eddie

    September 14, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Yossi has been an under-rated player for years. He really does add some creative guile to the side, he can finish, and the effort is always there. One thing I fear, though, is that Rafa will not bench Lucas in favor of Yossi. For whatever reason, he seems hell bent on proving that he didn’t make a mistake in signing Lucas, even though a midfield pairing of Masch and Gerrard with Yossi supporting Torres would be far more dangerous.

    Then again, I didn’t manage the club to Champions League and FA Cup trophies.

    • Laurence

      September 14, 2009 at 5:13 pm

      well summed up!

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