Rafael Benitez has demonstrated how to best utilise Dirk Kuyt effectively in the last 10 games that Liverpool have played. Whereas before Kuyt was an auxillary striker he now plays out on the right wing.
In the 4-2-1-3 (and NOT 4-2-3-1) formation that the manager employed the team has won nine, drawn one and lost one of the last eleven games in all competitions. With these set of results have come some very impressive perfomances, none more so than the derby win against Everton. Furthermore, Gerrard’s ‘best’ position has also been solved. The understanding between Torres and Gerrard has developed to such a point that they have become one of the most dangerous attacking partnerships not just in England, but in Europe as well.
However the key point of this article is to highlight how the use of Kuyt on the wing has helped the team achieve a better balance. Attacking and defending have been improved upon hitherto slackness. With Babel and Kuyt on the wing Liverpool carry more goal scoring threat in the team. That is the key reason why Jermaine Pennant has been unable to figure in the squad, let alone the first eleven while Benayoun along with the other two aforementioned players have.
In the 4-2-1-3 formation 6 outfield players ‘defend’ while the other 4 outfield players ‘attack’. If Liverpool were to have played Pennant instead of Kuyt against Arsenal in the Champions League Quarter Final First-Leg it is highly unlikely that he would have been in the position that Kuyt was in (i.e. inside the penalty area) to anticipate the cross from Steven Gerrad.
Pennant has two goals to his name in all the time that he has been at Liverpool. Says it all really. He is one that will only stay out wide and therefore he lacks the variety and as such is too one dimensional to be a world class winger in the Ronaldo or Quaresma mode.
For all of Kuyt’s faults and believe me, there are many, he has still managed to get on the scoresheet enough times, especially at crucial moments in crucial games, to warrant a place in the starting eleven (six goals in the Champions League this season). Therefore I don’t believe that Benitez ‘only’ plays Kuyt because ‘he works his socks off’. That would be too simplistic to say the least. I am sure that Rafa feels what I feel. He is fully aware that if Pennant and not Kuyt were in the team it would increase the dependancy on Torres and Gerrard to score the goals. Also against the bigger teams a five man mid-field is essential, especially if you only have two world class attackers in your team as Liverpool undoubtedly do.
So with that in mind when Benitez comes up against the likes of Utd and Arsenal who have more of those ‘match winners’ he will no doubt revert to ‘flooding’ the mid-field so as to compensate. For the time being the end justifies the means. With the 4-2-1-3 formation he can achieve the necessary ‘balance’ he requires from his team. With the results being better this season although still far from good enough for a club of Liverpool’s stature against the other members of the big four it would seem that he has been right with this approach.
Should Benitez add a Quaresma and/or a Villa to his starting eleven we would then expect to see him come with a more positive approach away to the Manchester Uniteds of this world. The more goal threats you have in a team…the better. Obviously. What should also be noted is the fact that because Kuyt is a striker he will know how and where to cross the ball into the box for Fernando Torres to score goals. This is another added benefit of his presence out on the wing and one which Benitez clearly gave thought to when deciding to shift his dutch striker into that position.
Benayoun has also lost out to Kuyt for that right wing berth. Although he is more productive with a higher goal return than Pennant, he does not carry Kuyt’s more “predatory instincts”. That should be a given since one has been a striker for most of their career and the other hasn’t. Goes without saying really. Yossi’s two hat-tricks were all well and good but it did not mask the fact that they came against infinitely inferior opposition. However his presence has continued in the squad consistently to provide that alternative option in attack.
Out on the other wing Babel has been very inconsistent and still looks very raw. However he has needed to at least feature regularly so as to build up his confidence and hence help him mature as a player. Only in this way may we see him realise his burgeoning potential next season. At the moment he is too unpredictable and while that may be a negative, it is an aspect of his play which makes him too worthy to discard from the starting line-up. All the attributes are there. Clearly. What has to happen and pretty quickly is the pace, power, touch, shooting and composure need to be refined. If that occurs Babel will undoubtedly be a player that will take the Premiership, if not the world by storm.