At the start of the season, pundits and fans alike were falling over themselves in their praise of Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun. The 29 year old was in truly sensational form, a central creative lynchpin in a side that was bereft of confidence, and the only real shining light in a season of little joy for the Reds. Since the turn of the year though, we have hardly seen the Israeli international and his last goal came against Wolves in a 2-0 home win back on Boxing Day.
Injuries have really been a major issue with Yossi this season, and it effectively stopped the player in his tracks while he was in a rich vein of form. I would go as far to say that Benayoun was in the form of his life earlier in the campaign; the ball stuck to his feet like Lionel Messi and he went on mazy runs which constantly threatened the opposition penalty area. His performances in September and October were especially spectacular, a hat-trick against Burnley and a fantastic pass for Torres against Manchester United were particular highlights.
A Niggling injury in mid November meant he was absent from the starting line up for more than one game for the first time in the season, and although he returned to the first team eleven in December, another injury kept him out for a large part of January and February. Despite his injuries, it was still a shock when rumours started circulating of a move away from Anfield for the Israeli. Both Lokomotiv and Dinamo Moscow were said to be interested in the midfielder and it was said they were prepared to pay up to £7million for the player. Certainly, Benitez was looking for some money in January to reinforce his squad after a very poor start to the season, but I couldn’t believe he was seriously considering selling Benayoun, a player who had arguably been Liverpool’s best player in the first half of the season. The failure to offload Ryan Babel meant that Rafa had to look elsewhere for some funds and the Israeli appeared to be the prime candidate to sell. However, only Andriy Voronin and Andrea Dossena were offloaded in January and with the arrival of Maxi Rodriguez, Benayoun would have even greater competition for his place after his return from injury.
He came back to action against Manchester City as a 62nd minute substitute on February 21st and subsequently started matches against Unirea, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan, providing two assists in those matches. However since then, in the last four matches, Benayoun has had to settle for a place on the bench and last finished a match against Reading back in January when he unfortunately conceded a last minute penalty. He was an unused substitute against Sunderland yesterday and it appears he has fallen behind Maxi, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel in the pecking order. Babel’s resurgence is of particular concern to Benayoun for he was the most likely winger to be out of the door in the summer as Benitez searches for extra transfer funds, but with the Dutchman currently back in favour, and getting regular first team football, Benayoun must be concerned he will become a bit part player rather than the regular he was at the start of the season.
There is no doubt that the Israeli has lost some of the sparkle that saw him light up Anfield back at the start of the campaign but he will only need one performance to remind Rafa what he is capable of. Maybe he will get his chance against Benfica on Thursday and let’s hope he can weave his magic once again. Every creative player will be needed in the run-in for fourth and in Benayoun, the Reds still have a valuable asset and one they should utilise fully.