09 November 2007

Besiktas eight no guide to real Reds

by Derek Rae

Will the real Liverpool kindly stand up? I pose the question, because due to confusion as to whether the team I watched break a UEFA Champions League record on Tuesday night is the genuine article, or in fact a complete figment of my imagination.
Let's be honest, (and I know Reds fans can be counted on to give us complete frankness), Liverpool have sleep-walked through many a match this season.
There has been little passion, no urgency, and far too much tinkering from the sidelines. On the latter point, I'm not just referring to the constant change in personnel from game to game, but also the tendency to alter tactics from one match to another.
Benitez hit on this perfect formula for the 8-0 win over Besiktas. It is unlikely he's still stick to it.

Players, even as gifted as those at Anfield, are human beings, and it has been apparent all too often, that they're not comfortable with the tactical merry-go-round Rafa Benitez insists upon.
Now I'm not going to hammer Benitez in the manner many of my ESPN colleagues have been inclined to do recently. His track record speaks for itself, and the rotation policy has worked a treat for him throughout his managerial career, both in Spain and now in England.
Still Benitez has got it wrong on numerous occasions this term. His team selection at Blackburn on Saturday, for instance, was uninspiring and only when Harry Kewell and Peter Crouch came on in the second half, did Liverpool really threaten Brad Friedel and his defenders.
But with so much vitriol having been poured on the manager in recent weeks, surely he deserves praise for picking precisely the right team and adopting appropriate tactics against Besiktas. There was no messing around. This was Liverpool at their most direct and positive best, using 4-4-2 to marvellous effect.
The game looked tailormade for the towering Crouch, what with the Besiktas rearguard lacking height in the absence of the injured Gokhan Zan. Crouch enjoyed one of the best nights of his Liverpool career, and demonstrated that he can contribute significantly when the circumstances are right. Personally, I don't believe him to be man for all seasons that Fernando Torres undoubtedly is, but there are times when he can't be ignored.
Benitez played to his strengths by using Steven Gerrard in the centre of midfield with the excellent Javier Mascherano protecting him. Andriy Voronin's inclusion at the expense of Dirk Kuyt was the also the right move at the right time, given Kuyt's disappointing form of late.
But the real revelation was hat-trick hero Yossi Benayoun, a constant menace on the Liverpool right, in tandem with Alvaro Arbeloa, correctly preferred at right back to the off-form Steve Finnan. The Israeli international has the capacity to be an invaluable player in the years ahead at Anfield, if Benitez has the courage to play him regularly.
However, let's not delude ourselves. Besiktas were abject, disorganized, and devoid of spirit. In this case the scoresheet didn't lie. The Turkish team, whose atmospheric stadium near the Bosphorus I rank as one of my favourites, simply didn't belong on the Champions League stage. They deserved to be on the wrong end of the biggest thrashing in competition history.
Liverpool still have the hard work ahead of them in Group A. I believe they'll need to beat both Porto at home, and Marseille away, to reach the knockout stages: a tall order indeed.

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