Liverpool Lineup: The Problem with Rafa's Rotations

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Liverpool Lineup: The Problem with Rafa's Rotations

IconA glance at the Opta Index reveals that Didier Drogba has played in 96 out of 119 league games for Chelsea since he joined the club.

Of the 23 others, all bar two were missed due to injury.

Chelsea have won neither of the home matches in which Drogba has been absent this season.

Manchester United, without Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, have stuttered through the early games of the season.

United have scored four goals in six matches. 

Peter Crouch was Liverpool’s top scorer in 2006-07 with 18 goals, yet only started just over half of their fixtures.

Liverpool scored 30 goals less than Manchester United last season.

At Emirates Stadium, Van Persie, and Adebayor have started all but one of Arsenal’s games. Touré, Clichy, Fabregas, and Flamini have appeared in every Premiership match.

Arsenal are three points clear at the top of the Premiership.

Can anyone see a pattern here?

Regular readers know that this is a column about Liverpool Football Club, so I find myself wondering why on earth we had to wait 61 minutes to see Fernando Torres at Anfield this afternoon.

And believe me when I say I'm not asking rhetorically.

Let me be absolutely clear about one thing: I'm a huge admirer of Rafael Benitez. You can't fail to appreciate what he has achieved both at Valencia and Liverpool.

Nevertheless, Rafa's rotation scheme becomes exponentially more baffling with every fixture.

Perhaps in hindsight, it was justifiable to rest Torres and Steven Gerard last week. After two poor performances, though, I find it nigh on impossible to excuse the omission of Torres today.

It's easy to resort to clichés here—"winning is a habit" springs to mind. Above all, however, is a notion that most of covered in physics class: momentum.

Three weeks ago, Liverpool had it in abundance after successive victories.

Three fixtures later—with five, then three, then two lineup changes—the club find themselves back with the rest of the pack after performances in which they have been thoroughly disjointed.

There's no doubt that Torres has settled into Premiership football. His pace, movement, awareness, and work ethic are exceptional. And the facts don't lie—in his four Premiership starts, Liverpool have won 3, scoring 11 goals in the process.

In two games that he hasn't started, the club have not scored. 

At 23 years old, Torres is too young to need a rest so early in the season. What he does need, on the other hand, is to develop chemistry with his teammates—and particularly with a chosen striking partner.

If the convetional wisdom is that foreign imports take several months to settle into the English game, it hardly makes sense to make the process even more difficult by limiting Torres' playing time.

In football, familiarity breeds not contempt but rather the teamwork necessary to compete at the highest level. For Liverpool fans, that "highest level" is the Premiership.

Given recent events, I'm still unsure as to Benitez’s understanding of this concept.

The opening statements of this article were not red herrings. Shevchenko, Kalou, and Pizarro are anything but squad players...but they've had to wait their turns behind Drogba whilst Chelsea played one up front. When Ronaldo, Saha, and Rooney are fit, they are in Manchester United’s starting lineup. At Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has never believed in a rotation system.

All of these clubs have a core of players who feature every week, and the results speak for themselves.

At Liverpool, only Jamie Carragher gets so much respect—but Carragher saves games; he doesn't win them. That speaks to the differences in mindset between Benitez and his EPL counterparts.

World-class players want to play every game—and whilst that may be unrealistic, they should be fit enough to start at least eight out of 10

Rhythm and momentum are everything in sport. Until Rafael Benitez appreciates this, Liverpool will continue to fall short of the competition.

I couldn't end this article without mentioning a certain José Mourinho. It has been difficult not to mention him when writing this weekly piece, and although you couldn't always agree with everything he had to say, he will be sorely missed.

The game needs characters, and I sincerely hope that we'll see the "Special One" back in the Premiership.

And for the record, Mourinho did win two Premierships by playing his key players without fail. 

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