Liverpool Betraying the Legend

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst IMarch 12, 2010

Upon witnessing Liverpool being played off the park by Wigan the other week, I realized that the hope that existed, for a time after the miraculous Champions League victory, including last season's EPL campaign, that the world would again see the type of football that created the legendary Liverpool teams of the past, was going.

It was ebbing with every bad touch, every poor piece of defending and every lacklustre pass.

Benitez has been both attacked and defended in the last few years, including by this writer. But it is time that Liverpool fans and Liverpool the club realized that his departure could be the best thing for the club. Funnily enough, he could stay and again be successful.

But the success would come playing football that is not reminiscent of Liverpool football. Not the type of football that stirred generations of football lovers the world over with its skill, precision and moments of flair for entire seasons, instead of for every other game.

Benitez's defensive set up for the game against Wigan was plain too see, though it was disguised thinly by the inclusion of apparently "attack-minded" midfielders. The problem was that Babel, Johnson, Riera, and Ngog (why not play two up front against a team that have struggled defending all season?) were on the bench. All players who use the art of football trickery and instinctual movement to score or set up goals.

They were replaced by defensive minded players across the team. This ended up costing the game because of the slow deep play that they engaged in. Also amongst the forwards there were not enough players who can beat a defender with a trick alone.

Therefore the overlap was not created and the holes were not there when it came to trying to play through the defence to the goal. Wigan put on a solid defensive turn, what you would expect from a home side. The problem for Liverpool in the match was that they never found a rhythm and their bumbling attempts to score came because of the lack of fluency from defense to attack.

The fluidity that was missing could instead have been gained by putting some of the benched attackers on the field for something faster and daring in attack. The lack of risk takers was the reason they lost.

Benitez does not take risks.

Wigan have struggled this year with concerted attacks from teams willing to run at them from everywhere. Liverpool were trying to attack up the centre for much of the match, despite the slow slog it became. Where were the real wingers? On the bench.

Where was the midfielder like John Barnes? Terrorising the opposition defence, with pace and guile. Or the Peter Beardsley, darting about, chipping away at the defence before suddenly scooting through a gap and away from two defenders. Maybe Kenny Dalglish, pulling goals out of thin air, on a reasonably regular basis.

Players that were highly skilled in attack and able to perfect their craft through being relied on by a manager who knew how to set his team up to accommodate for the freedom that his attackers enjoyed. Getting a chance to prove themselves and learn despite setbacks. The instant success mentality of the new age of football has certainly harmed team continuity for sides all over the world.

Rarely are developing players who pull out moments of absolute magic play, like Babel for example, allowed to make many mistakes. Any dip when you are starting out sometimes has terrible effects where a player can be out of top level football for too long.

Wigan would have been the perfect chance for Benitez to give his wingers a game together and run Wigan's wide defenders ragged, enabling the rest of the team to benefit when the gaps appeared.

Instead it was the don't concede and play technically precise football with no real intent that ended up being frightfully dull. Was this Liverpool I was watching I asked myself? This is terrible, no one seizing the initiative, trying to beat his man, going for an audaciously thought out pass, instead Wigan were the ones who played the attacking football, the quick movement into space, the fast passing into vulnerable areas.

Benitez 's teams pursue a rigorous pattern of play on most occasions and rarely do you see a Liverpool in full flight as in the past. The defensive mindset is a betrayal to attacking teams of the past.

This is the betrayal of the Legend, the legend that grew up around teams that were based on sound defensive units, that were less likely to commit basic errors, therefore giving the attackers a morale boost in going forward knowing there was no way in at the back.

Despite the much touted defenses of many top sides now, at times many of them are woefully inadequate. Liverpool went through a period in recent years of having one of the best defensive units in world football. In that period they were able to occasionally free themselves from the shackles of Benitez and his regimented formulaic approach and really flow again.

Unfortunately, this has happened on few occasions.

There have, of course, been highs that managed to put a sheen on the managerial reign of Benitez. Highs that he has implemented his strategy of management for, which is a credit to his successful development of these idea's to fruition.

Though somehow, the manner in which Benitez and Liverpool's success has been achieved, has led to the situation Liverpool are in now, losing in the Europa league and dangerously poised to not qualify for the Champions league.

Of course, it does come back to the ownership group in the fact that they continue to employ Benitez as manager, therefore endorsing his football philosophy. Which when it comes down to it, is not the football philosophy that Liverpool have been trying to re-implement in their search for a manager to restore the clubs former glories.

The spectre of the EPL trophy haunts Benitez, especially seeing how close he was to it last season. It must ghost into his thoughts as he dozes before sleep and pop into his mind when he awakes. The apparition of it lurking in the back of his thoughts and influencing his everyday life.

Culturing further his football philosophy of avoiding failure at all costs into the teams play, so inhibiting the opportunity for flair and trickery to decide the day. The team selections are defensively minded to the point of despair on occasion, and at times rely on the other teams propensity to commit errors, rather than the Liverpool side's ability to exploit opposition with moments of magic.

Benitez may stay on as manager even if he does not make the champions league next season. But do not expect Liverpool to start playing the sort of football that the older generation of Liverpool fans grew up on.

It evidently is outside the Spaniard managers philosophy. But again, he is an employee, so it again comes back to the American owners.


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