After Liverpool’s 2-1 derby win at Goodison on Saturday there were two main talking points. The first, as with any Everton defeat in a derby, was the referee. The second was Rafa’s decision to replace Steven Gerrard with a substantial part of the game remaining.
Pundits and fans have listened to what Rafa said and typically started to mix his quotes up. Rafa spoke to both Sky and the BBC immediately after the game, and was asked about why he took Gerrard off to be replaced by Lucas.
He told Sky: “Because this game sometimes you need to play with the brain and we were playing with the heart and we needed to keep the ball. We were playing with one more player and we needed to keep the ball and pass the ball.”
He told the BBC: “We were playing with too much passion; all the team was running and working really hard but we needed to keep the ball to keep the possession and Lucas is a player who can do this.”
In a later press interview he tried to explain it again: “The idea was clear. By then Everton were a man down, it was 10 against 11 and we had a player with passion. But we needed to pass and control the ball.”
Rafa’s decision did seem odd at the time. Gerrard didn’t understand it, Carra didn’t understand it, and most fans didn’t understand it. But Rafa’s explanation afterwards seems clear enough.
Passion in a game is very important of course. Without passion this week’s trip to Istanbul would not be bringing back memories that might never be matched. If a player has no passion at all then he shouldn’t be wearing a Liverpool shirt. But there are times when passion can be dangerous. Times when passion needs to be controlled.
Jamie Carragher was certainly caught up in the occasion on Saturday. His run across the pitch at the final whistle to the Liverpool supporters, Istanbul style, was a sign of how glad he was to finally exorcise the demons of last year’s Goodison derby. Rafa might see the game as just another league match, but he’s not had friends and relatives ribbing him for the last year about a win so big for Everton they released it on DVD. Carragher tends to show his emotions more than fellow Scouser Gerrard, and had to be calmed down at one point by Gerrard for arguing with the referee that he’d been listening to the crowd instead of making up his own mind.
That kind of passion can be counter-productive, and although Gerrard had been having probably his best game for club or country since he broke his toe, Rafa felt the whole team were overdoing the passion, not just the Scousers. He’d seen Sami Hyypia score an own goal, and half-time he had to speak to the Finn to boost his confidence a little. As the second half went on Rafa was getting a little worried that Sami’s response might prove dangerous: “During the first half maybe it affected his confidence, but then I could say to him: ‘Look, you can score in the top corner, you’re not so bad!’ He has a very good mentality and is a great worker. You could see in the second half he was desperate to score a goal. He was going forward all the time, and I was getting worried because he was going up as a left-winger! But for me this shows the character and the ambition he has.”
This character and ambition is what Liverpool need to see more of from their players, but for the manager he just wants it to be controlled if possible.
Even though Liverpool won, the late goal means that many have already decided he got lucky. Perhaps he did. But the way some are twisting his words into him saying that he felt Gerrard has too much passion, like it’s a bad thing, is unnecessary. Rafa’s first language isn’t English, and when he arrived at the club he could barely speak it.
Credit should be given where it’s due, and Rafa’s Gerrard decision on Saturday is what won Liverpool the game. Lucas was robbed of a derby winner only because Phil Neville saw fit to cheat.
The bonuses are there too. Lucas has surely been given a boost of confidence that young players desperately need. It was a great league debut for him, and he looked like he’d been part of the team for years. Gerrard got a shorter game than his teammates, and so should be fresher for the Besiktas game this week.
In fact Rafa actually gave some of his players a bit of time off after the derby. He made it their choice whether they went to Melwood or not on the Sunday, some clearly felt it showed a better attitude if they did train: “Some players had been with the national teams and we needed to give them a rest,” said Rafa. “I said to them, ‘If you want to go, go. If you want to stay, stay.’ Some of them chose to have a day off and celebrate, but not everyone.”
Liverpool were hoping to add Fernando Torres to their squad for the game in Turkey, but despite him being close the Reds have decided to leave him at home so that he’s in contention for the Arsenal game. Xabi Alonso has travelled however, having recovered from his metatarsal injury. Daniel Agger is still not ready, and stays at home with Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa. Harry Kewell is also not yet ready to return.