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Liverpool’s problems lie with Rafa

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Ok, let’s get the bitching out of the way first. No, no one’s questioning Rafa’s record in the Champions League with Liverpool. No, I’m not questioning his record with Valencia in Spain.

And no, I’m not questioning the fact that he has had a limited budget to work with but he’s made some great signings. And again, no, not challenging the notion that in one-off games, not only is Rafa one of the best tacticians in football management, he just might also have Mourinho’s number.

In fact, I’ll set out my stall right now and say that Rafa Benitez is a better, more stable manager than Gerard Houllier and has definitely taken Liverpool forward in the Premiership and in Europe during his time.

And yes, Liverpool will do better in the future because of the extra money they have now (which amounts to paying 20m for Torres and then financing it by selling Bellamy and Cisse for 10m+).

Can we NOT raise those points in the comments? Please? I’m NOT arguing over all this. Thank you.

Now getting back to the article and the point I’m actually trying to make – as with any manager, you have some good points and bad points. If Wenger’s a master at nurturing talent and if his teams play beautiful football, he’s also capable of being too rigid with his system and of not having a Plan B for his sides.

If Ferguson’s the master of attacking football, he can be faulted for falling out with his best players and for some tactical mistakes in crucial matches in the last decade or so.

What about Rafa Benitez? He is a master tactician, and his transfer strategy is good. But when it comes to the Premiership race, Liverpool, under Rafa, have been found lacking.

In a nutshell, Rafa’s tactics are to defend first, to keep a clean sheet and to come away with one or two goals. A defensive mentality and pushing to control the game in midfield can work in spades for you IF you match it with the right offensive / counter-attacking strategy.

However, Rafa’s teams are disorganised in attacking from open-play.

One example – I made a point to compare the way each of the top four teams chose to attack the opposing penalty area during the last season. Chelsea were direct (more than the rest atleast), United attacked in the most numbers and Arsenal dominated in controlling the box around the area.

All three teams had their forward 6 move in unison, the wingers and strikers making runs and space for themselves.

Liverpool? You’d have the two central midfielders sitting back, the wingers cutting in but not pushing forward and invariably one of the strikers waited outside the box. In short, Liverpool’s attacks had no fluidity, no rhythm, no concert. Where you’d see 4-6 Arsenal shirts attacking the opposition box as one, you’d see 3 Liverpool shirts running ahead without backup.

This has nothing to do with the players and everything to do with the manager.

I’m not saying that Liverpool can’t win the league with Rafa – in fact under him they have their best chance in a long long time.

But for Liverpool to win the Premiership, it’s not just the players that Liverpool needs. It’s a change in Rafa that must take place as well. His teams have to be more aggressive, more clinical.

Rafa himself has to change – it’s a challenge for him, and as much as I think that he’s done well, I’m sure he can do better.

Maybe next year, maybe not. But with him in charge of Liverpool I can only see the Premiership becoming better and better tactically.

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Ahmed Bilal created Sportslens in 2006. He is a business consultant and entrepreneur who helps businesses identify and overcome their biggest challenges. He’s also the founder of Football Media, an online advertising agency that specialises in sports and male audience targeting, with a monthly reach of 100m+ sports fans in the UK and US. He’s also the previous owner of Soccerlens.com – a sports news site that reaches 3m+ readers / month.