It’s one of the most tiresome cliches in football these days, yet one that most in the public eye can unilaterally agree on. Liverpool, they say, are a team of two players. No argument. G&T, Stevie & Nando, Gerrard & Torres.
Like the zonal marking debate, no conversation about Liverpool is complete without it. But yesterday’s annihilation of Owen Coyle’s much-liked Burnley side in the Anfield sunshine, whilst hardly unexpected or especially flamboyant, did at least show the world that there is more to Liverpool’s attacking armoury than their prize duo.
Rafael Benítez has been given a few headaches from his supporting cast in the past few weeks, Ryan Babel’s lethargy and fondness for an inflammatory quote or two may well have led to his omission from the squad yesterday, whilst Albert Riera was another to go public on his frustration at a lack of minutes so far this season.
But if Benítez had any problems with those two, with yesterday’s match-winners he can have no issue whatsoever. Dirk Kuyt, and hat-trick hero Yossi Benayoun are fast establishing themselves as two of the Reds’ most reliable performers, shaking off the inconsistency and quality issues that some commentators – including yours truly – believed would forever hold them back.
The pair have now chipped in with more than fifty goals in their two-and-a-bit seasons together at Anfield, no mean feat at all considering Benayoun has not always been (and probably still isn’t) an automatic choice, and that Kuyt was initially signed as a central striker, who has since shown off his admirable versatility to retain an integral role.
The Dutchman, deployed centrally behind Fernando Torres, excelled in his hour or so on the pitch yesterday, setting the tone in a quiet first fifteen minutes with his tireless running and willingness to knit midfield and attack together. And once his Israeli team-mate had opened the scoring with a well-crafted turn and finish, Burnley were swept away.
Benayoun was phenomenal, few players in the league today possess as adhesive a touch as the 29 year-old, and Benítez himself paid tribute to his “clever movement” in his post match press conference. He richly deserved his treble here, and was only denied a fourth by a dubious – nee incorrect – offside decision after Steven Gerrard’s free kick had been spilled into his path by Brian Jensen.
Kuyt had already gobbled up a similar rebound for the critical second goal before half time, as Burnley’s keeper gave Benayoun’s 25 yarder the hot potato treatment following a lightning counter attack. Benayoun would later go on to complete his hat trick with a pair of simple but effective finishes in front of an appreciative Kop End.
It all bodes well for Liverpool, who saw their skipper Gerrard enjoy a wonderful game of his own from a deeper central midfield position, whilst Benítez was gushing with praise for young Brazilian Lucas, who shrugged off the effects of a gruelling international week with Brazil to turn in a performance good enough for his manager to label him “our key player today”.
And whilst a solid and healthy victory over Burnley is not exactly pulse-racing fare, and despite important away wins for Chelsea & Manchester United, Benítez has reason to be cheerful as he surveys the league table today. His side may have suffered the same number of losses already this season as they managed in the whole of the last campaign, but the Spaniard knows that his squad is improving by the day.
Torres here was largely anonymous, yet the side still managed four goals – and could have had plenty more – whilst Gerrard proved that he can still be hugely effective in an orthodox midfield role, whilst the consistency of the likes of Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Emiliano Insúa & Jamie Carragher is rarely an issue.
They might not, as Reina revealed in yesterday’s Guardian, be overly-confident of a title push this season, but one thing is for sure, the best of Liverpool this season is still to come, and they have more than Gerrard & Torres to frighten teams with.