Rafa: Added pace brings more options

Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez says the new arrivals at the club this summer add more to the overall capabilities of his squad, opening up more possibilities to bring success in games the Reds couldn’t win last season. One big improvement is more pace has been brought in: “It was difficult at times last season because, in terms of pace, our only option up front was Djibril Cisse. Now we have so many different aspects to our game. We have the intelligence of Peter Crouch and Robbie Fowler and also the pace of Mark Gonzalez and Craig Bellamy.”

Speaking to the Sunday Mirror, Rafa explained how the extra pace would compliment the existing abilities of other players in the squad: “Pace isn’t everything. The most important quality is football ability. But in modern football, it is a fact that it is more difficult to succeed if you don’t have that real speed in your team. What you need is a balance of good pace and good movement, and also players who can make the most of those qualities. Craig and Mark can’t do it on their own, but what we’ve already got is the great passing ability of players like Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso. It is important for any team with ambitions to have these different options.”

Rafa certainly learns from everything he sees. League performance in his second season in charge of Liverpool were a substantial improvement on the first year, a result of Rafa studying every detail of every game they played. He didn’t rest in the second season, and feels these tweaks to the squad help him to pick the right players for the right games: “Now we should be able to do much better away from home against those teams who play high up the pitch and leave space behind. I think we can win some games that we didn’t last season.”

It’s no secret Rafa still wants to add one more striker to the squad, but he doesn’t seem unduly concerned that he’s still not quite managed to land Dirk Kuyt: “Much depends on the confidence your strikers have as well, but what I’m happy with is my options. There will be more rivalry between the strikers and that can only be very good for us. I don’t make predictions, but I do believe that we have a better team than last season and a better squad.”

Jose Mourinho’s already had a pop at Liverpool in pre-season, proving how much our consecutive semi-final victories over Chelsea en route to silverware have riled him, but Rafa says he’s not going to return the compliment: “I can promise you that I’m not thinking about Chelsea – only my squad. What is the point of worrying about something that is out of your control? All I am interested in is seeing my team perform at a higher level than last season. I’m trying to improve my squad but the other managers are doing the same.”

Words are all well and good, but words don’t win trophies: “We can talk now, we can send the supporters lots of positive messages, but in the end we need to talk on the pitch. We need to win the first game and keep trying to win as many games as possible. I am sure Manchester United and Arsenal will be thinking about the same thing.”