Maxi Rodriguez Headlines a Liverpool Squad That Is Showing Its Competency

Dan PattersonContributor IApril 23, 2011

Maxi Rodriguez trains before a Europa League outing
Maxi Rodriguez trains before a Europa League outingJamie McDonald/Getty Images

I'll be the first to admit that Maxi Rodriguez is probably my least favourite player on this current Liverpool team (Christian Poulsen shouldn't even be considered as part of the team). That being said, this feeling is born more of unrealistic expectations rather than the talents of the Argentinian international.

In an effort to prove me wrong once again, Maxi Rodriguez notched his first career Liverpool hat-trick after his first start under Dalglish, during Liverpool's 5-0 whipping of Birmingham City.

Rodriguez was a typical Rafa Benitez signing. A solid, if unspectacular player, who held formation well, helped out defensively and was quick to get forward on the counter-attack. Brought in as a semi-replacement for the ultimately disappointing Alberto Riera on Liverpool's left flank, Rodriguez was never going to be the winger fans were crying out for.

Due to the simple fact that there was nobody better, Rodriguez had an extended run in Liverpool's first team out on the left but never really made the positive impact fans were looking for. His three goals against a lacklustre Birmingham have proven his ability to find the back of the net, yet I would hold to the argument that the Argentinian shouldn't be near the first team of an injury-free Liverpool side.

After picking up a knock against Sunderland, Carroll joined Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Martin Kelly on the sidelines. As all these names would likely have been on the first-team sheet, Dalglish has been forced to shuffle his pack, awarding extended runs in the first team to Jay Spearing and, more recently, John Flanagan and Jack Robinson.

For arguably the first time this season, the squad has been forced to rely on its depth to maintain a challenge for fifth place, and thus far, it has not been found wanting.

As early as the beginning of the season, it would have been all too tempting to write off a Liverpool side shorn of Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Now it is a completely different story. Raul Meireles' run of goals helped the side to beat the likes of Chelsea, and Dirk Kuyt is one goal away from meeting a career-high tally in a red shirt for the season.

Even more impressive are the likes of Kelly, Flanagan and Spearing, who have kept Poulsen and Paul Konchesky out of the starting lineup, two players brought in by Roy Hodgson to compete for spots in the starting 11.

Credit is due to Kenny Dalglish and all the coaches at Melwood for providing depth, not from the transfer market but Liverpool's own formidable youth setup. The argument to give the club's younger players a chance is stronger than ever.

While brought in to play behind Torres, Joe Cole has had a disappointing season at Liverpool, and the arrival of Luis Suarez and Carroll kept him on the bench. While he remains under contract, Dalglish will likely see Cole as a player to bring on against tired defenders when Liverpool needs a goal. I would much rather have liked to see Yossi Benayoun still in a red shirt, even though the Israeli captain has struggled with injuries this season at Chelsea.

One game is absolutely not reason to call off any investment in the team this summer, as top-class talent is needed on the flanks and certainly as cover at center-back. What this does prove is that this is a Liverpool team that may well be better equipped to challenge on several fronts next season. This raises the likelihood of silverware, regardless of a Premier League that has become more competitive than ever.

Manchester United have been a shade of the imperious sides of years gone by, yet they have quietly gone about securing a record 19th Premier League title without playing all that well. Whatever dark magic Sir Alex Ferguson is brewing for Ryan Giggs is certainly a factor, but United's strength in depth and never-say-die spirit has seen them rise above the mediocrity of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, to open an eight-point lead (at time of writing) over second place.

A last-minute draw against Arsenal, followed by a demolition of Birmingham at Anfield, can be credited to both a mental toughness and strength in depth, missing from the past two years. Now if Ferguson will only lend a little bit of that fountain of youth potion to Jaime Carragher, the Reds are set!