It is very well publicised that Rafael Benitez is a big believer in rotating his squad, and it is largely looked at by the press as being detrimental to Liverpool’s title credentials. But is it?
On Wednesday night Liverpool faced Portsmouth at Anfield, yes we walked away with the maximum points, but it was not a convincing win. Many pundits stated that we did not look as convincing as we did against Chelsea, and the main reason was the amount of players the Benitez changed from a winning side (note the word amount, not which players were changed).
Against Portsmouth, Benitez made four changes from the starting line up that faced Chelsea three days prior. Now this should be looked at, the reasons behind them tell you that Benitez should be complimented on the changes, and not made out to be ruining our title chance.
First player to be changed was Daniel Agger—a player who has only very recently come back from a long term injury, and is no where near 100% match fit. Playing two games in short succession, would have definitely taken its toll. And don’t forget that we have a game against Spurs on Saturday—making it three matches in less than a week.
The next player to face rotation was Javier Mascherano. Why would Benitez leave out one of our best players and replace him with a young Brazilian? Masch has just returned to the club from international duty with Argentina (17th October) and has not had time to fully rest from a vigorous trip and game.
If the opportunity arose to give him a few extra days grace, and we had suitable cover—remember Lucas is a member of the Brazilian first team for a reason, then why not.
Next, why was Riera rested on the wing? Well, he is still not fully adjusted to the English game, and the three games in less than a week is tough on any player, especially one that does as much running as Riera does.
Babel was played in his place, giving more backup to the lone striker Kuyt, so tactically this swap made sense too.
Lastly Jermaine Pennant was played ahead of Robbie Keane; well Kuyt was played as a lone striker due to Keane not being 100%, which left the right side empty. Pennant has a lot to prove at Liverpool—the epitome of inconsistency, but when given a rare opportunity, he can sometimes shine (and after his display against Portsmouth, he deserves another shout against Spurs).
So, as far as I am concerned, the rotation of these four players was just. If we have a squad strong enough, then it is only going to benefit the team in the long run. The season is very long, especially for a team that is also competing in Europe, we don’t only need fresh players now, but more importantly, we need them at the end of the season when things start to get extremely tough.
Let’s look at Liverpool recent and upcoming fixtures:
Saturday 18th October – Wigan
Wednesday 22nd October - Atletico Madrid
Sunday 26th October – Chelsea
Wednesday 29th October – Portsmouth
Saturday 1st November – Tottenham
Tuesday 4th November - Atletico Madrid
Saturday 8th November – West Brom
Wednesday 12th November – Tottenham
That’s eight matches in less than a month—if you compare that to other teams in the league that have not/do not rotate, that’s almost double.
Why is Benitez singled out by the media about rotating? If you look at another game that was played on Wednesday—Manchester United v. West Ham—you would see that Man Utd made five changes to the team the played Everton on Saturday. United have been doing the same thing for many a season.
Alex Ferguson does this for a reason, and that reason is the same as why Benitez rotates, the same reason Scholari rotates at Chelsea and Wenger at Arsenal—because they need to.
As I have said, the season is very long, the top teams are now playing more matches than ever, so a bigger and stronger squad is need, and rotation is essential.
To summarise, Rafa Benitez does rotate, but no more than any other top team manager. The reason they do it is because they have to. The more successful you are, the more football you have to play, the larger the squad you need to compete on all playing fields, the more you have to rotate to keep your players fresh.
The reason we have failed to mount a serious challenge in the past is not down to the amount of rotation Rafa carries out, but it’s down to the quality of the backup players we had. We can now turn to players with quality, with international big game experience, players such as Lucas, Agger, Hyypia, Babel etc. We are not quiet on the same level in squad quality as Chelsea and United, but we are getting there.
Originally Published at The Monkeys Office