Knee Jerk Time

Knee Jerk Time
August 18, 2009 Paul Tomkins

The knees have never jerked so hard. No surprise, I guess, but still the way doom can set in after one game – one fucking game! – does my head in.

A few concerns are understandable. All out panic is pathetic.

“The squad is too thin”. Well, an injury crisis does that! Could it be stronger? Well, there’s always room for improvement.

“Liverpool lack goalscorers”. Yet last season the Reds were the league’s top goalscorers. With more-or-less the same players.

“The formation is wrong”. This is usually spouted by people who don’t understand tactics, and who can’t see that every modern 4-4-2 is a version of 4-4-1-1 anyway, with one striker behind the other.

Lee Dixon (who I don’t usually mind) says “Liverpool need to find another Alonso”. Who the fuck is Aquilani, then? I mean, obviously Liverpool are going to miss Alonso when Alonso has gone and his replacement won’t be fit for a few weeks. Benítez spent £20m on a top-class Italian international. For a reason. People talk as if he hasn’t even considered the situation, let alone already addressed it.

Lee Dixon says “Liverpool’s troubles were not helped by Torres looking like a shadow of his former self.”

Yes, he’s finished! “Their star striker looked like a player at Christmas time”.

He actually looked like a player who’d had less pre-season training than everyone else; it’s not fatigue at this time of the year, it’s rustiness. That’s blatantly obviously. He had his break later than everyone else, returned late, and only featured in the later friendlies.

Lee Dixon says “I am sure Benitez knows how good a player Alonso was, but the decision to sell him to Real Madrid in the summer looks to have left them short of creativity.”

This view of Benítez ‘deciding’ to sell Alonso has been mooted in a few places, including The Guardian.

And yet it wasn’t really a ‘decision’ once Alonso handed in his transfer request, was it? Everton’s problems, according to Dixon’s MOTD colleagues, were down to the fact that they hadn’t sold Lescott. If Liverpool had lost with Alonso in the side, it would have been “you can’t keep unhappy players, it kills morale”.

Dixon also said: “They have brought in Alberto Aquilani to fill that space but until he proves he can be the chief supplier then they are going to have problems.”

Well, give the lad a fucking chance! He can’t prove it yet, but it’s not as if he’s going to miss the whole season. If Berbatov and Rooney get seriously injured this week, then suddenly United won’t look so strong. That’s what losing players does.

And again, I repeat, Aquilani is the designated source of creativity. But he’s not fit. If we can’t wait a few weeks, then what does that say about us as fans, and as observers?

Or would we rather have some inferior player just for the sake of it? It didn’t help whoever played central midfield that the front two weren’t sharp and Babel had one of those days where he just can’t make any kind of impression. Even Kuyt looked lethargic.

Apparently Arsenal lacked so many things going into this season, and yet after a 6-1 win at an Everton side in disarray they’re the best thing ever again. (If Liverpool’s zonal marking was awry for Spurs’ winner, then what was man-marking at Everton all about at the weekend? At least Carragher was close enough to make a challenge.)

United have no problems, but they only narrowly beat promoted Birmingham at home; job done but hardly a test. Chelsea have no problems, but they only beat a lowly side at home with an injury time fluke. Liverpool have massive problems, and yet should have had a penalty with which to equalise in a tough away game.

Admittedly Lucas and Mascherano are not ideal as a partnership in terms of natural balance, but I felt both did well enough; Lucas was up and down in the second half, making lots of good first-time passes (he only gave the ball away once all game and made one goal-saving tackle on Lennon), but in the first half there were too many square balls by both players.

Then again, there wasn’t enough movement ahead of them, there were too many long balls from the back, and Ryan Babel, who I pray will one day click into gear, was not in the game. The injury that limited Yossi Benayoun to just a sub role was another blow amongst many, but when he came on he showed that he was carrying over last season’s excellent form. He can add some of the creative spark that was missing.

Liverpool apparently lack depth up front, and yes, there is no major star in reserve, but Rafa has had his fingers burned with big names who refuse to sit on the bench without the longest of long faces.

What amazes me is that one of Crouch and Keane will sit out games at Spurs most weeks, with Defoe the best of the bunch, and Pavlechenko also there.

Will Keane sulk again? Will the cameras spend the entire game focused on who Harry leaves out? (I doubt it, because he’s a media favourite, and Rafa is their preferred figure of criticism when it comes to team selection.)

If Rafa has strong back-up strikers, he gets slated for rotating. After all, none will ever be as good as Torres and Gerrard, will they?

Everyone says that Rafa has to play Gerrard and Torres as much as is physically possible to win the league. Yet what top striker is going to be happy with a very limited bit-part role, especially in World Cup year? And options, such as David Villa, were too expensive, and unwilling to leave Spain.

Let’s face it: Liverpool started with a visit to a place where they lost twice last season. They went without half a dozen first team players, a semi-injured Benayoun, two centre-backs carrying injuries (who then injured each other), and the best front two in the world who were clearly not 100% sharp due to late returns to training (and in Gerrard’s case, time spent on trial).

In my piece for the official site last week I wrote that I expected the Reds to lose at Spurs; it was edited to it being a difficult game, and understandably so – it was a bit of a doom-ridden forecast. But when I then see fans before a game like this saying “we’ll stuff them 4-0”, I know that such crazy expectations are why people go off the deep end when we lose.

I was pissed off at the defeat, and especially the manner of the first half display, but it was always going to be a very tough game. As it was, despite being second best, the referee, by general neutral consensus, failed to give a nailed-on penalty, when Voronin was just yards out in the centre of goal. Phil Dowd showed how incompetent he can be only a week earlier in the Atletico game.

If Liverpool fail to beat Stoke, then I’ll accept genuine concern. But it still won’t signal doom. The pressure just needs to be lifted, and confidence boosted. However, I fear that fans will be on Lucas’ back after his first mistake, and the atmosphere will grow hostile too quickly if a lead isn’t found early on.

Losing sucks. But this whole ‘throw the baby out with the bath-water’ reaction is insane. And I’m not sure how much longer I can put up with it.

‘Red Race: A New Bastion’ is out now, available only from Click here for details on the book and how to order.

A PDF of sample chapters and extra material can be downloaded for free here.