“Character” and “Effort,” they are word’s we have heard a lot from Rafa Benitez over the years during his spell in charge at Liverpool. Much of this effort has been typified in this time by Dirk Kuyt. Back in 2006, the Dutchman was bought for a sizeable figure from Feyenoord Rotterdam as a striker but as goals dried up, he was converted by Benitez into a right winger, where he has demonstrated with abundance the effort that Rafa has so espoused. No one would doubt that he is the hardest working player in the Liverpool team but his contributions as a player really sum up the current plight that the team find themselves in. Talking after the Lille game last night, Kuyt delivered the same message that Rafa did for the team’s performance:
“Before Wigan, we had done well and kept many clean sheets. The only defeat we had suffered in the league was at Arsenal and it was getting better and better. Monday was just an off day. We were all very disappointed, most of all with ourselves. We have got to change that. We put a lot of effort in against Lille and created some chances. It wasn’t the best game that we have played but I thought we put a lot more effort in. We controlled it defensively and until the goal, Lille didn’t have many chances.”
The phrases that are crucial from this quote are “we had done well and kept many clean sheets,” “we put a lot of effort in,” and “we controlled it defensively.” No mention of how they passed the ball or wing play, the primary concern is to ensure they put more effort in than against Wigan, and ensure they kept it tight at the back. Certainly during the match, Rafa tried to be more positive against Lille and they had their chances to score but the focus again was on how to not concede rather than to score. Kuyt typifies Benitez desire for hard work rather than quality. Dirk would even admit himself he is not a winger but he fulfils a function in Benitez’s side: to track back, win the ball and provide some sort of option on the right. Flair and the ability to create chances for others is not something you would associate with the 29 year old.
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the player for the real target of my anger at the moment is Benitez. Rafa has always been one for rotation and he generally picks the side depending on who he is playing against. Such a policy for me however, only exacerbates a run of bad form, players coming into form such as Ryan Babel or a player new to the league such as Maxi Rodriguez need a run of games to really get on top of their game, but you would be lucky to get two games in a row on the wing for Liverpool at the moment. At the back though, Rafa has been stubborn in continuously picking Emiliano Insua despite some very poor performances. Although he is young and still learning, Rafa appears to be persisting with the player despite him being consistently found out against good opposition. But Rafa has already said, he can’t afford players taking 2 -3 matches to find their game in the run in for fourth place (e.g. Alberto Aquilani), so why has he allowed Insua so many matches?
For me you can have as much hard work as you like, but if the players are just not good enough to do what is required of them, then no matter what tactics you employ or what effort levels you possess, you will fall short. Work ethic is no substitute fo class Rafa, and although it can have its moments in big games and is important to any successful team, if you don’t have the craft to carve out chances to go with it, winning games will become very difficult. In recent weeks, this has been aptly demonstrated and Rafa’s team have got what they’ve deserved, not a lot.