Fresh from SOS meeting, Rafa picks strong side to face Stoke

Barclays Premier League, September 20th 2008.

Liverpool v Stoke

Anfield, 3pm.

Liverpool are at home for the second league game in succession, and a win would take them top of the league, but nobody at Anfield is taking three points for granted.

Stoke City might be new boys in this division, but Rafa Benitez doesn’t expect a repeat of the one-sided game that took place the last time the two sides met. That was an 8-0 League Cup win, eight years ago at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium, which included a Robbie Fowler hat-trick.

It won’t be an easy game – the regular mentions of Stoke’s threat from throw-ins suggests that it will be another one of those games where supposedly inferior opposition fight like it’s their cup final. But Liverpool know that the better they get, the more they’ll find opponents arrive at Anfield feeling that way. One of Rafa’s challenges is to find a way to deal with that approach. Another is to ensure complacency doesn’t set in, like it did after Liverpool’s promising start to last season.

He’s not weakened his team in any great way. Carra and Skrtel retain the centre-back spots with Agger sitting on the sidelines again, waiting for his chance to reclaim his place. All three are top quality centre-backs that any decent manager would love to have at his disposal; much like the days when Liverpool had to choose two out of Hansen, Lawrenson and Gillespie.

At full-back there’s no real choice for Rafa. Fabio Aurelio is injured once again, meaning new signing Andrea Dossena is the only left-back available. Alvaro Arbeloa has played effectively at left-back, but he starts today at right-back. Steve Finnan was sent to Spain at the end of the summer to help keep the wage bill down as well as help towards transfer funds, following on from John Arne Riise’s move to Roma, leaving Rafa with only one other full-back available for today, and that’s new signing Philip Degen. Degen makes the bench, hoping that he’ll get a chance to make his competitive debut.

Javier Mascherano is one player that many fans would like to see start each game, but others feel he’s a luxury against opposition who arrive at Anfield to defend. Rafa’s left him on the bench today, preferring instead to start with captain Steven Gerrard, scorer of both goals in Marseille in midweek, and Xabi Alonso, who nearly left the club in the summer.

In what is expected to be a 4-4-2 formation, another new signing Albert Riera starts on the left wing, with Dirk Kuyt likely to start on the opposite flank. Kuyt’s playing there because Rafa has both of his £20m+ strikers available today, with last season’s top-scorer Fernando Torres and new signing Robbie Keane both looking to get their names back on the scoresheet. Torres has scored once this season, before injury set him back, Keane has yet to open his account since signing from Spurs. Rafa is confident their partnership will be a success, but Ryan Babel, scorer of last week’s winner, is on the bench if required for ‘impact’.

On the opposite side today is former Liverpool player Salif Diao, who will probably get a warm welcome from the Liverpool fans – warm because he was one of those cult heroes to many, even warmer because of the relief he’s no longer in a Red shirt.

Rafa Benitez met with representatives of the Liverpool FC supporters’ union, Spirit of Shankly, on Thursday. In that meeting he stressed his feelings towards the club and the job in hand were as strong as ever. Although most of the conversation is likely to remain confidential, including any views Rafa may have expressed relating to the ownership situation, the manager spoke to the Liverpool Echo about some of what was said: “It was a very positive meeting and I explained how happy I am with the new staff – Sammy, keeping the spirit of Shankly alive – but also Pellegrino, Paco de Miguel and Xavi Valero for their new ideas.”

He also said that he spoke to them about his ideas for the club’s Academy facilities, which he’d like to see improved so that the club’s reserve fixtures could be played there, rather than in Wrexham or Warrington as in previous seasons: “We were also talking about the future and I told them about my idea to build stands at the Academy so that our fans can go to Kirkby to see the reserve team and the players. These are things that can improve the spirit of the club but also improve the experience of the players so that they know that they are with a top club with a lot of tradition and a great history.”

How far those plans have got, and whether the club can actually afford to make those improvements, wasn’t revealed, but Rafa seems to have found the meeting extremely useful: “We were also talking about ideas to improve the club, trying to be positive and work together.”

With SOS now having met with Dubai, Rick Parry, George Gillett and Rafa Benitez, only Tom Hicks has yet to approach the union to discuss the issues that are causing so much concern to so many fans.

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher, 37 Skrtel, 2 Dossena, 18 Kuyt, 8 Gerrard, 14 Alonso, 11 Riera, 7 Keane, 9 Torres
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 5 Agger, 15 Benayoun, 19 Babel, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas, 27 Degen

Stoke City: 29 Sorensen, 2 Griffin, 25 Faye, 33 Sonko, 3 Higginbotham, 7 Lawrence, 4 Olofinjana, 18 Diao, 24 Delap, 12 Kitson, 11 Sidibe
Subs: 1 Simonsen, 5 Cort, 6 Whelan, 9 Cresswell, 10 Fuller, 23 Tonge, 28 Wilkinson

Referee: Andre Marriner

12 thoughts on “Fresh from SOS meeting, Rafa picks strong side to face Stoke”

  1. It just shows what happens without Mascherano! I still expected to win comfortably though. I also figured Keane to get off the mark.

    Oh well, still unbeaten, besides if we’d won people would have started going into overdrive about the title.

  2. Lets be honest that’s why we wont win the title – Chelsea wont drop easy points like that.

    And we will never win the league with Dirk Kuyt as our first choice right winger.

    People can say its not a disaster its only one blip but that’s exactly what we said at the start last year when we were dropping points with teams like Wigan at Anfield.

    We have just gone and blown all the good work done from last week

  3. I am pretty disappointed. It was a great chance to show everyone that we mean business. I think too many players played pretty poorly in the final third today. Don’t want to single out anyone.

  4. It’s hard not to be disappointed – almost suicidal (clearly, only in a football sense)

    We’ve had some great results – if not performances. Maybe today’s game was payback.

    Clear Goal rule offside – maybe that’s fate for the goal we got against Liege as the clock ticked down.

    Acres more possession than the opposition – maybe that’s payback for the time Middlesborough dominated us but we got the winner.

    Defensive solidity got the better of our lack of attacking flare -maybe that’s payback for our performance against the Villa.

    ‘Fate’ aside, I’ll take the points we have – given that Masch, Babel and in particular Torres have had one helluva busy and tiring last few weeks – not to mention the other Spanish lads and Lucas.

    I only hope that Torres gets some rest – inbetween games – because he’s not having the start to the season the chances he’s had deserve. As for Keane, it’s a pity Stevie G wasn’t prepared to be a second striker so that we could have used the money elsewhere……….though I do think Keane will come good (and at that money he has to)

  5. was at the game on sat and to be honest was not surprised by the result. as an attacking foce we are too predictable stoke parked the whole town in front of goal and asked the question of us.
    there 2 issues with us on the playing side
    1.we lack movement for a top team our movement is poor.we need pass and move back to move teams about.and fullbacks that can get beyond back 4s
    2.Rafa has no bought what we need.we desperatley need qualty on the wings.Kuyt is never a right midfielder in a million years.Against villa we played 4 centre midfielders and we are supposed to challenge for the league i think not

  6. I personally think we need to replace Crouch. We need a target man in January to give us a few more options, for when its getting desperate in games like Saturday

  7. I was invited to the Emirates Stadium last night, as I was in the big smoke.

    Arsenal’s kids were absolutely fantastic. 6-0 did them credit but they could even have made it more. Wilshere and Ramsay were A1 class – not sure Spearing and Darby are in their class yet. Ramsay was an unsung star in the holding role and the mexican-boy Vela up front was top class too. Bednter brushed Gary Speed aside in one challenge like a child could do a grandfather.

    I also saw what Rafa means by having attacking full-backs to create width for the team. Sadly, however, we don’t have the players at the moment who understand how it’s suppose to work.

    I was sat up in the box seats – a rare treat! – watching the game but with half an eye on Sky Sports. In joy i watched the ticker along the bottom when I saw Agger had got us off to a good start but totally riled when i saw Crewe had got a goal back. To see Lucas had rescued a win left me relieved – not joyful.

    Liverpool’s 2nd string, from what I’ve seen on LFC TV, aren’t up to Wengers bunch of kids.

    In boxing they say styles makes fights. We’re fortunate that Rafa knows how to disrupt styles. In time I hope his vision for our team leaves Arsenal playing game in its wake. Some task that though!

  8. midlands, that Arsenal stuff doesn’t impress me at all. It’s not that I’m not a fan of the beautiful game, I just don’t think Wenger can produce a team with balls anymore.

    Check out Agger when he scored last night how chuffed he was, pointing to the back of his shirt in front of the Kop. To me that shows character and determination, to come back from injury and be prepared to fight his way into the squad.

    How many trophies has Wenger won recently?

  9. To read some of the posts here, you would think we were languishing at the bottom of the league and out off the league cup! We have had one bad result, but still remain unbeaten, is that not something? We all know that we have yet to hit form, but it will come. Lets get things into perspective and less of the doom and gloom. 2nil against the blues, come on the Pool!

  10. Went to the Crewe game last night. Not really impressed at all. Our second first team so to speak were not as good as i expected.

    On the bright side we won, were through. And they played wide all night. Every attack started from a wide position. They crossed the ball and the strikers were fed all night.

    The down side is that our second string attack, especially Ngog arent up too much at all. I think he is weak. And the midfield werent to clever.

    Im not a Pennant fan, but i gotta say he had a good game. He interacted with the full back well and delivered a few good crosses. The system last night i thought was excellent and it would be great to see it implemented into our first team.

    Maybe even give Pennant a run on the right hand side. It gives us options.

    My biggest gripe is LUCAS. I just dont see what he gives us. A few simply balls here and there and thats it. He cant tackle and his work rate isnt the best. Yeah he scored the winner, but did not do much else. He does not deserve a first team place by any stretch of the immagination.

    Overall an average performance from a some what weak 11. Glimpses of brilliance here and there.

  11. I’m really looking forward to the derby tomorrow!

    It’s gonna be a real test of the character of the side. (kinda stating the obvious!).

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