Some Reds fans will argue that Rafa Benitez has left Roy Hodgson with a high class starting eleven. No doubt, if we look at possibly our strongest starting line up, there is much to be optimistic about: Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, Emiliano Insua, Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard, Yossi Benayoun and Fernando Torres. To most this would seem to be a very strong line up, more than capable of achieving the top four place required of them, but somehow last season, this was not the case.
Why and how this happened is down to a number of factors. Significantly injuries to some of our key players and the lack of form of others definitely played a part. With Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Alberto Aquilani and Glen Johnson all out for good parts of the season, the strong starting eleven was weakened significantly. The big problem then, has been seen to be squad depth. The lack of real class on the substitutes bench and any real options to change games when things were not going so well, certainly contributed to our poor showing last season and eventually seeing Rafa Benitez exit the club.
The lack of squad depth has been blamed on a lack of funds, and to some extent this is true when money from Robbie Keane and Xabi Alonso’s sales were not fully reinvested into the playing squad, leaving to Rafa relying on players such as David Ngog up front and to buying an injured Italian midfielder who would take months to settle into his new surroundings. Not all of this can be blamed on the lack of funding though. If we look at supposedly our best starting eleven again, you begin to see holes in places you shouldn’t, most significantly at the back. Jamie Carragher’s form was out of Rafa’s hands but the introduction of both Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua was down to Rafa.
With Fabio Aurelio injury prone as he was, an able deputy should have been ready and waiting but because of Rafa’s decision to sell John Arne Riise in favour of Italian flop Andrea Dossena for £6m, we were left with a young Argentine Emiliano Insua. To be fair to the player, he tried his best, but he was just not ready to play as regular left back in the Premier League. Both he and Johnson are a lot more attack minded than previous players in the position, a positive move by Benitez you would think to encourage more attacking play, but it caused greater problems in defence and an element of the side that was once its bedrock ceased to be as effective.
Of course, this is not to dwell on past actions. Hodgson now has to form his own team out of a good nucleus of players left to him. The big problem though, is that good nucleus may opt to mutiny. The player’s highlighted in bold above are all those who have not committed their future to the club. It would rip the heart out of the club, and we would certainly be left with not only a squad lacking depth, but a first eleven too. If ever such a situation arose we would be truly heading for mid-table mediocrity and Hodgson has the biggest challenge on his hands since Bill Shankly, something that John Aldridge believes to be the case:
“He’s got a massive job on his hands at Liverpool. I think this is the most important stage in Liverpool’s history since Bill Shankly took over with what’s happening off the field with the owners and the lack of stability at the club. Something had to happen as soon as possible and you had to go in and test the situation about which players need to go out, what you’ve got to bring players in and who you can keep. That’s very, very important as Javier Mascherano has been using the wild card about his wife and there’s question marks about Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. They’ve got to be sorted out ASAP.”
For the club’s sake let’s hope he succeeds.
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