Before our game against Villa on Sunday afternoon, several pundits predicted that Martin O'Neill would sacrifice Emile Heskey up front by employing an extra midfielder. He didn't and I'm wondering if that would've made a significant difference. Villa dominated the game for about twenty minutes between our first and second goals and having that extra midfielder could've made all the difference. It's an interesting thought and certainly a strategy that will be employed by at least a few of the managers in the season run-in. It's a strategy that worked wonders for Hull, Fulham, Stoke (twice) and West Ham.
Sometimes a defeat against a shit opponent can truly galvanise a team and in some ways I'm glad we were thrashed 2-nil by Middlesbrough, days before playing Real Madrid at home. The response was incredible. Never had I seen a Liverpool
team come out with such attacking intent and it took Madrid by great surprise. They never recovered and our confidence has soared.
The fact is, little has changed with the teams that drew the weaker clubs earlier this season and the ones that have destroyed Madrid, United and Villa. I just hope we don't lose any/too many players during the international break nor the momentum that has been generated in March. Fifteen goals and just one conceded in four games last month. Thankfully, the serious charges in Gerrard's criminal case have been dropped and Rafa has signed a new contract. The owners appear to have kissed and made up (albeit temporarily) and there seems to be an acceptable level of stability at all levels.
I also think Rafa has finally sussed out his best team: Reina, Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio, Kuyt, Alonso, Mascherano, Riera, Gerrard and Torres. The 4-2-3-1 formation is working wonders after years of tinkering with 4-4-2.
Reina is a quality keeper and if it wasn't for Casillas at Madrid, he'd be Spain's national goalkeeper. It's the toughest position to play in, especially if you're extremely good and play second fiddle at club or international level. The stand-out in Reina's game is his ability to get rid of the ball quickly and accurately. He has a great kick and arms of steel. And he is a great penalty-saver but questions remain over his ability to remain calm in big European games and those against the Big Four. Overall he is one of the Premier League's best custodians and a very safe pair of hands.
Arbeloa and Aurelio are decent full-backs but are not world-class. They get the job done. My only issue with Arbeloa is the number of bad tackles he puts in. He's by far our worst yellow-card offender. Aurelio on the other hand has done incredibly well to recover from career-threatening knee injuries to fill the void left by Riise and is our second-best free-kick taker (after Gerrard of course). The fact he is a naturally left-footed player offers much-needed variation. His goals against Portsmouth and United augur well for the future. He must be extremely relieved that Rafa has put pen to paper and extended his contract because he would've been the first to leave us had Rafa not.
Carra and Skrtel are no-nonsense centrebacks. They also get the job done and are not afraid to simply kick the ball out of play if the situation demands it. They are also not world-class, though Carra certainly should be playing for England. While it suits Liverpool that he retired from national duty, it wasn't one of his wiser decisions. He would be a more-than-useful sub in South Africa.
Riera and Kuyt are dependable wingers but again, they're not world-class. Riera has excellent ball control, pace and along with Benayoun, our players with the most flair. The problem is that he has blown hot-and-cold for most of the season. He needs consistency. I also don't like the fact that he is our number one simulator. :) As for Kuyt, he's our most hardworking player but absolutely shit as a goalscorer. Though to be fair he has done a lot better this season and has balanced the disproportionate number of goals he was making in the European Cup last season with the Premier League this season. He remains a weak link on the right and it's a position that needs to be filled with a proper winger over the summer.
Then there's Mascha and Alonso. Now they're both world-class, particularly the Argentine. If it weren't for Gerrard and Carra, he'd be our club captain, in addition to the international honour bestowed upon him by his new manager Maradona. Mascha is the perfect foil to Alonso. He puts in 100% every game and his tackles are second-to-none. He makes Alonso's job so much easier as the distributor. Both have incredible vision and match-situation awareness. They are the reason we do so well in Europe and we're really going to miss Mascha in the first-leg at Stamford Bridge.
And finally, the Dynamic Duo. After all the problems between Rafa and Gerrard in their first three seasons together, the arrival of Torres and his immediate chemistry with the captain has changed our fortunes completely. Rafa has stopped using Gerrard as a right-and-left midfielder and instead given him the freedom to roam in front of the midfield, just behind Torres. Funnily enough, it's not even Gerrard's preferred position but the manager has convinced him that it's his current best position. And the legend has realised it for himself. So many of our goals are being scored and created by the duo and naturally the dependence on them has presented us with our biggest weakness. An injury to either or both will derail the rest of our season: both in Europe and in the league. It cannot be stated enough just how crucial they are to our future success.
Which brings us to the subs bench. This is Liverpool's second major weakness. Unlike United, we simply do not have the like-for-like replacements to strike fear in the opposition as the main eleven do. Cavalieri and Itandje as goalies have rarely played a game but from the little I've seen of Itandje, he has been pathetically pathetic. Cavalieri has done marginally better but is no comparison to Reina.
Insua and Dossena at left-back are decent but worse than Aurelio. Insua is a great prospect for the future. He was part of Argentina's Olympic winning squad and from the little we've seen of him, has stepped up to the plate magnificently. But he's inexperienced. And Dossena is simply too slow for the Premier League. We need suitable reinforcements at left-back this summer. And on the right we have Degen who hasn't played much so I can't really comment. But there's nobody else which means in the case of injury to both him and Arbeloa, Carra or Mascha will be forced to cover while either Hyypia or Agger take over at the centre.
Hyypia is getting too old for a Big Four team but he still oozes class whenever given the opportunity. His quality in the air has resulted in some key goals for us this season and he remains our best bet in the case of injury to Skrtel or Carra. Agger is also decent and has received attention from AC Milan but I don't rate him too highly. He gets the job done but has been run ragged by the best attackers. Final verdict, we need a solid world-class reinforcement at the centre, especially if Agger and Hyypia leave this summer.
For our midfielders we have Babel, Benayoun, Lucas, El Zhar, Plessis and Spearing. Babel has massively flattered to deceive the 12 milion squid we dished out for him. I know he's young but he wastes too much time on the ball, gives it away too easily and doesn't pass to his teammates enough. That said, I want him to stay at Liverpool because he's got a bright future. Perhaps Rafa should try to use him more in his preferred central striker role, especially if the worst befalls Torres. There's no doubting his talent and it would be a pity to lose him this summer because he's not getting enough chances. Besides, he's a half-decent rapper which fills the void left by John Barnes. Christmas number one anyone? Benayoun meanwhile is not as talented as Babel but he is an extremely useful squad player. He always gives his best and has scored some crucial goals this season. He can play on both wings and even behind the striker which could come useful in the season run-in. But I have doubts about him becoming a better player than he already is and with his lack of involvement this season, could probably be heading for the exit this summer.
Then there's Lucas who arrived with much fanfare but has rarely replicated his Brazilian form in England. I think he gets more shtick than he deserves and though he is quite a letdown as a replacement for Alonso, is the best we've got in that position and will have to make do for now. I think he's done a decent job with distribution with the few chances he's been given and will be sufficient in case we need to use him more this season. But it's a gap that will need to be filled over the summer. As for El Zhar, Plessis and Spearing. I think the less said the better. They're simply not Premier League quality, let alone Big Four material. But they're young have a bright future. Nevertheless, they should only be used in dire emergencies.
And finally, up front. N'Gog. Who? Fuck. We're absofuckinglutely fucked. I don't care what Rafa thinks of him or the talent he has or the promise he fulfiled at PSG. The guy is too young, too inexperienced and simply the worst replacement for Torres. But it does get worse. Rafa has also tried using El Zhar up front. Which is why Rafa needs to try out Babel. He couldn't do any worse, could he? Or even Benayoun. Anybody but N'Gog. This is the difference between Liverpool and pretty much the rest of Europe's best. United have Rooney, Berbatov and Tevez. Chelsea have Drogba, Anelka and Kalou. Arsenal have Adebayor, Van Persie and Arshavin. We have N'Gog. What a fucking disgrace. If we lose Torres for the rest of the season, we're fucking fucked.
All in all, we've got a decent chance to win at least one trophy with our best eleven. There are reasonable replacements in all positions except up front. If Torres and Gerrard remain fit till the end then we will give United a run for their money. Perhaps we might even make the European Cup semis but I doubt we can reach the final. I hope we do. It takes place the day after my exams finish. What an icing on the cake that would be.
COME ON YOU REDS!!!! BRING BACK 19 AND LET'S RULE ROME AGAIN LIKE '77 & '84!!! YNWA