This summer Liverpool supporters were almost unanimous in opposing the manager and his quest to land the signature of Carlton Cole. Fan forums were practically audible in their protests against a player that was deemed unworthy of donning the red shirt. Most were of the opinion that not signing a striker at all was preferable to being lumbered with a Chelsea reject of unfulfilled potential and limited versatility. Now the focus is on the intrinsic potential of the club and two individuals that have left fans far more divided: Ryan Babel and David Ngog.
Ryan Babel, so persistently inconsistent, is the more enigmatic of the two. The price and prominence of the 19-year-old player from Ajax sometimes seems incongruous to his Liverpool performances. He was used sparsely but to devastating effect by Benitez in his first season and perhaps became too comfortable in his role as an impact substitute. How he is a regular for the Dutch national side often perplexes; he sometimes seems more of a fickle than a Flying Dutchman.
But when he turns it on, he can be quite unstoppable. The Champions League has borne witness to various moments of Babel ingenuity, not least the stunner against Lyon last season that brought us so tantalisingly close to progressing. So often he has provided those moments of inspiration that can spark a good team performance. With the ball out of his feet he has a cracking shot and with his pace and athleticism he can leave many a fullback in his wake. It is when he lacks urgency and gets too tangled up with the ball that his game suffers. Hopefully Roy can awaken the “confident and positive” individual that Babel was quoted on yesterday and fulfil the undoubted potential of this still-young player:
“The manager has told me he would like to use me up front more than normal, so hopefully that will give me enough chance to show how much I like that position. I was very pleased to hear this. I have always said my ambition was to play in that position, but at the same time I am very realistic. Fernando is very important for the club and he will always be our No.9, but you know you can also be very important for the club too if you are used well.It will be a long season and we will need every player. Hopefully I can give the confidence and the trust back to the club that they have shown in me.”
Last season David Ngog was the second-choice spearhead of the attack. He should not be used as the scapegoat for what was a ubiquitously dismal effort, but he did manifest many of the problems of the campaign. Far too wasteful with the limited possession we had and impatient with the unfruitful toils of the team, he would often hesitate too long or run at a sea of defenders when we would have benefited far more from simple passes and fluid interplay.
If he is going to develop from being Torres’ understudy, from only coming into contention when the Spaniard is rested or injured, the first thing Ngog must develop in his game is forethought; he needs to constantly keep his head up and read the situation before he is thrust into it. The instinctive movement and positioning is promising, but greater finishing foresight needs to be cultivated by Hodgson and his coaches before Ngog can be consistently relied upon. The way he lashed home the goal against Arsenal is demonstrable of the growing prescience that is necessary for him to improve, something Carragher made reference to the other day:
“We are looking for Fernando Torres to stay as fit as possible but I think David Ngog in the last 12 months is a completely different player, and his start to the season has been fantastic.”
Two unfinished but promising products. Which one do you think is more capable or deserving of the striker role? And in what formation or strategy do you think they should be deployed? Where Babel is more inspiring but transient, is Ngog a better spearhead player with less creative clout? Leave your thoughts below.
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