Two months ago, it seemed as though that Ryan Babel’s time at Liverpool was coming to an end. Unhappy at the lack of first team opportunities, venting his frustration out on Twitter and speculation over a move to Birmingham, the 23 year old forward’s career appeared to have nosedived. Football is a funny old game though, and just as it seemed that Babel’s potential would not be realised, a run of games in the Reds team has seen a small revival in the Dutch player’s form.
Let’s not get our hopes just yet, inconsistency has been a big element in why Babel hasn’t established himself in the first team eleven since his arrival in August 2007, and he might just drop his current high standards in the coming weeks. Injuries and confidence could still affect his current rise to prominence but I am quietly confident that Babel might be here to stay this time. Part of the problem over the last three years for the Dutchman is that he has felt he hasn’t had a long enough run in the team to prove himself. Something he even mentioned after the 4-1 victory over Portsmouth last night:
“I was always happy at Liverpool. Slowly I’m feeling stronger. Hopefully now I can continue to get stronger. With every game you’ll start to see the best of me. Obviously you’re always frustrated when you can’t show people what you can do – but that’s not just me, that’s every player. But that’s the past and now I want to go forward here at Liverpool.”
Confidence is certainly a big issue with Babel and I think we should give credit where credit’s due with manager Rafa Benitez on this. After the failure to offload the Dutch winger in January, the Spanish manager has known he has had to work with what he’s got, and so rather than isolating Babel in the reserve team, he had a good one to one talk with the Dutchman to get the best out of him. It looks as if faith has gone both ways on this. While Benitez has believed in the 23 year old to start him in four of the last six matches, Babel has repaid him with goals against Unirea, and Portsmouth last night. He is definitely a player that needs game time to get the best out of him, and I think it is something Rafa has finally realised. Generally even if Babel starts a match, he is substituted on 60 or 70 minutes, but this didn’t happen last night against Pompey. I don’t know how many times Babel has played the full 90 minutes for the Reds during his 3 year stay at Anfield but my guess it isn’t many. The consummate, confident finish for the second goal indicates both his exceptional talent and his high confidence levels.
Babel’s revival in my opinion needs to typify the entire team’s performance in the fight for fourth place. Nearly all Reds fans will agree that the Pompey performance last night was a step in the right direction. Attacking play will be rewarded if applied in the right way and it is something that Babel certainly advocates:
“These three points are very important but now this passion and the way we played in defence and attack is the basis of how we have to play in the remaining games. I think we had a point to prove in terms of getting a result. I don’t think the performance at Lille was as bad as some people think but here we definitely showed character and passion, and hopefully we can now look forward.”
The midfield at Anfield last night possessed an array of star names. Ryan Babel, Alberto Aquilani, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Maxi Rodriguez, all can be considered world class performers on their day. The problem is whether such players and such performances like the Pompey display last night will be the ‘basis’ of how the team plays the remaining games as Babel says. My instinct is that it won’t be and although I think the same midfield will play against Lille on Thursday , I believe we will see both Dirk Kuyt and Lucas Leiva coming in for the fixture at Old Trafford on Sunday. It would be a shame but rarely over recent years have the shackles been unleashed to produce good attacking displays like last night, and I can’t see this happening in many of the away games during the run-in. For me, you can’t win fourth place by keeping clean sheets and hoping to nick a goal at the other end like they tried and failed to do against Wigan last week. For the revival to be successful, they must take their play to the next level in the attacking third. I am hoping rather than believing that this will be the case and that the Portsmouth game will be the start of a great run of results to the end of the season.