Don’t Say No Crouch No More, Rafa

25 10 2007

Pathetic! Utter Crap! Complete Bollocks! There are umpteen ways of describing Liverpool’s performance last night against Besiktas, all of them negative. Yesterday’s performance was worthy of a 3rd Division relegation scrap, not a do-or-die European night.

I should add that prior to watch this footballing fiasco I was already in somewhat foul mood, having hurriedly scarfed down a delayed biryani to watch an abysmal movie, The Contract, where the only real highlight was a minor and very, very brief T&A moment courtesy of Megan Dodds or her body double.

By the time I actually got down to watching the match (from the 25th minute onwards), Liverpool were already down by one, courtesy of yet another Sami Hyypia own goal (2 in 2 matches!!! Have the gods deserted us???), and I had to endure a few not-so-very-friendly messages from my brother and friends heckling MY team.

And whatever optimism I had of a dramatic Liverpool comeback, ala Olympiakos and Istanbul, evaporated within 5 minutes upon seeing schoolyard quality passing all around the pitch from Liverpool. Honestly, at times I wondered if Mascherano was colour-blind, for the number of times he passed the ball straight to a Besiktas player.

Fair play to Besiktas though. They came out with a plan, and executed it to perfection. But, let’s be realistic and remember that it was Besiktas. Liverpool had more than enough quality to overcome them, on paper. And yet, there was minimal creativity and most of the play in the attacking third was just trying to cross over the backline for one of the strikers to run onto. 9 out of 10 times, the ball ended up in the goalie’s hands.

I had 2 major issues with Liverpool’s attack on the night.
1. Predictability – There was absolutely no creativity in the attacking third. You knew exactly what Pennant and Babel were going to do, Pennant would go on the outside and cross it in, while Babel would invariably look to cut in and run on goal. What Liverpool miss from last season, and what they only got once Benayoun came on the pitch was the spark of creativity and unpredictability. This single quality was best embodied by Luis Garcia over the past few seasons. It was why he was such a successful European player. He had that ability to create something out of nothing, and turn the game on its head.

2. No Target Man – Kuyt and Voronin were both playing like second strikers, forgetting the fact that one of them should have been leading the line. There was no target man to get stuck into the defence, and knock the ball down into the path of the other players.

And this is where my biggest beef with Rafa comes in. Why did he wait until the 80th minute and AFTER Besiktas had scored their second before bringing on Crouch? Crouch proved his value immediately because his second touch of the ball had Besiktas floundering and created the opening for Gerrard to score Liverpool’s consolation. Surely with more game time he could have created many more opportunities for others, simply by being a ball winner and targetman in the Besiktas penalty area.

The stats at the end of the game read Liverpool 28 shots on goal and 1 goal. Reading that shows you why Liverpool struggle for goals, and underlines the importance of having a Torres or a Crouch along with a Kuyt or Voronin. Kuyt and Voronin are too similar for my liking to be an effective partnership. You can’t have two similar strikers playing at the same time if they’re both trying to do the same thing. You need to have a someone to target inside the box to take or create the chances. Of those 28 “shots” on goal, I think more than half were attempted through balls over the defence that ran into the goalie’s hands. The trouble was that both Kuyt and Voronin were behind the ball when the pass was made, or the one’s doing the passing with the other one 2 feet away. Where’s the target? Why try those passes when your target is right next to you? You would think that they would try something different after the first 5-8 failed passes like that. Talk about flogging a dead horse.

Whatever his failings, Crouch does create problems for defences, especially inside the penalty box. His 6ft 7inch frame attracts defenders to him simply because they know that he can hit the target if he’s left alone. In moving to defend against him, more spaces open up for other players to exploit. It’s a tactic that served Liverpool very well last season, and in doing so Crouch did score over 15 goals. So why change it now?

Now unless Rafa took exception to Crouch’s statement that were it not for football he’d have still been a virgin (you need to scroll down a bit on that page), I fail to see why he keeps leaving him out. Someone who’s scored over 15 goals in a season is not a person you leave out on a whim. Now, either Rafa has short-term memory when it comes Crouch and the team sheet, or there’s some internal machinations going on (maybe Mrs. Benitez let slip that she fancies Crouch a bit, knobby knees and all???).

But whatever the reason, Rafa better wake up soon. Please Rafa. Don’t say “No Crouch” no more.

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