Craig Bellamy: Flying high in Red
But for the capitulation against Bolton some weekends ago, it’s generally been a positive few weeks for Liverpool.
Is it because of Steven Gerrard’s return to full-match fitness? Andy Carroll’s encouraging improvements? Dirk Kuyt’s mini goal spree? New signings bedding into the team?
The answer is, quite conceivably, all of the above.
But there is one man to top it all off, one man who has exceeded all expectations upon returning on a free transfer, one man who should be starting games week in and week out if it weren’t for his knee.
That one man is Craig Bellamy.
Here are six reasons he is Liverpool’s most important player right now.
Do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to discuss below.
For a man of 32 with much-vaunted knee problems, Craig Bellamy is pretty darn fast.
The acceleration and turn of pace that he used to be so famous for is still intact, and it shows. His darts down the left wing and cuts into the center of the park open up space for overlapping teammates like Jose Enrique, Stewart Downing and Steven Gerrard.
Of course, for all the pace he has, he still wouldn’t be much use if he didn’t use it to run at the opposing defences.
But run at them he does, and how.
Defenders who afford him the space to run at them suddenly find that he has halved his distance to the goal, and by the time they try to close him down, it’s too late. His goal against Wolves was a perfect illustration of this.
For a team that sometimes opts for the safer sideways and backward pass options and sometimes lacks the incisiveness to give it a go, Bellamy's directness is all the more important.
Celebrating with Gerrard and Maxi
Pace and direct running don’t rule all. Just ask Theo Walcott.
A top attacker requires an awareness of play around him and the skills to make things happen.
Fortunately for Liverpool, Bellamy has creativity in abundance.
He has already gone on record in saying that Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool wasn’t a Liverpool side he wanted to play in due to defensive and counterattacking tendencies, but that he signed all the same because it was Liverpool.
Now, it’s Kenny Dalglish’s pass-and-move style that Bellamy thrives in, and it shows.
Since returning to Anfield, he has struck up seemingly telepathic partnerships with multiple players: Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt, Jose Enrique. His acute awareness of overall positional play and attacking movement, coupled with his eye for a pass, make him a main threat for Liverpool.
Case in point: Maxi’s finish to give Liverpool a 1-0 lead against Chelsea in November, which came on the back of a sweeping build-up from Bellamy and Suarez.
Scoring from a freekick against former club Newcastle
Not only does Craig Bellamy have the instinct and awareness to instantly strike up connections on the field, he also has the ball control skills to set up his teammates for goalscoring chances.
His crossing has already proven his ability to wreak havoc in the opposition box without having to be in it himself. With the likes of Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing already on the left, if Bellamy keeps his roaming, left-sided tendencies, this makes for a chance-creating machine down Liverpool’s left. Andy Carroll take note.
Bellamy has also shown his dead ball prowess.
His ability to send free kicks into the net was on show against Newcastle, while his deliveries from set pieces have already yielded goals for both of Liverpool’s Martins—Kelly against Chelsea, Skrtel against Aston Villa.
Wheeling away in celebration after a clinical strike against Manchester City
All the above attributes make Craig Bellamy seem like a poor man’s Luis Suarez. But in fact, when it comes to efficiency, Bellamy has been one of the stars of Liverpool’s season.
With nine goals and five assists in just 12 starts in all competitions so far, Bellamy has become the definition of “making things happen.”
And his finishing ability has come to the forefront in recent weeks as well, as he has scored seven goals in his last seven starts.
Contrast that with the famously profligate Suarez, who has eight goals from 81 shots and four assists in 20 starts and who has hit the woodwork on too many uncanny occasions.
So, a free transfer that has the ability to excite like Suarez he may be, but a poor man’s Suarez he definitely is not.
(Disclaimer: The intention of this slide is not to belittle Suarez, whose importance to Liverpool cannot be understated.)
Bellamy with Jordan Henderson
The new Liverpool initiative has been to create a team with talented youngsters at its core, and the vast majority of Kenny Dalglish’s recruits so far have had relatively little experience in the English top flight—and indeed at the top level.
And this is where Bellamy’s considerable experience comes into play.
He’s played alongside a striking legend in Alan Shearer. His previously frequent brushes with controversy have hardened his approach to the game. And his nomadic movement across the country has seen him develop a flexible, easily adaptable style of play, capable of working with all sorts of teammates.
As Liverpool prepare to one day phase out the old guard and usher in the new, Bellamy, along with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, will be crucial to the Reds' transition.
Craig Bellamy at his annoying best
Rarely do you see Craig Bellamy walking around the pitch.
He is constantly on his marker, and his work rate sees him track opposing defenders when he does not have possession of the ball. Alongside the hardworking Suarez and Dirk Kuyt, he forms a formidable first line of defence for Liverpool.
Rarely do you see Craig Bellamy walking away from a challenge without protesting it.
He is constantly on the referee’s case (previously with a certain amount of expletives as well, but he seems to have cooled down in this aspect), and he is always looking to cause that little extra bit of trouble for the defenders around him. Needless to say, he’s a nuisance to play against.
Thus exemplifies the mentality with which he approaches the game.
An attitude like his inspires the confidence and the work rate of those around him.
And let’s be honest—not many young players would want to have Craig Bellamy around constantly nagging them and urging them to step up their game.
Craig Bellamy has established himself as a mainstay for Liverpool in recent weeks, so much so that he is the first name the Kop clamors to see come off the bench when things aren’t going well.
Kenny Dalglish exemplified many Kopites’ feelings when he said he wished Bellamy was 23, not 32.
Now that Luis Suarez is about to return from his eight-game ban, the load on Bellamy’s shoulders is bound to decrease.
There have been suggestions that Suarez and Bellamy can’t be played in the same team.
As long as Bellamy is fit, he and Suarez should be featuring in the first team week in and week out. For the time being, Kenny Dalglish should definitely have Bellamy stamped onto his strongest teamsheet.
What do you think? Do you agree about Bellamy as Liverpool’s most important player, or do you have other nominations? Have your say below.
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