Early season optimism from positive signings within the transfer window, a new manager with a gentleman’s demeanour reminiscing the past Legends, and potential takeover has lifted somewhat the dark cloud looming over Anfield. However after 4 competitive games, it is clear Benitez’s influence is still being felt. After all, right or wrong, Rafa wanted and gained control on many aspects of the club.
He was fundamental in convincing Gerrard to resist Chelsea and stay. He transformed Carra into one of the top centre backs in Europe. He juggled transfer budgets and brought silverware back to the country’s most successful club. Strain began to show with the Gareth Barry and Robbie Keane saga, and we all know about last season. He changed the structure of the Academy. His grip on the way we play is still evident. Hodgson is aware of this: I need time to get to know the squad, know the players, strengths and weaknesses. So what did Rafa leave behind?
4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1, whatever you want to call it. Two games, two different Liverpool’s. Arsenal at home; fighting spirited display which we should have won, for only a red card and a rare Pepe mistake. For one reason or another Roy picked this usual formation. Personally, he was aware of the passing threat Arsenal posed. This is the way we Rafa has developed our play. Man City away, the 4-4-2 absolutely killed us, no pressure on the ball, out passed, out processed. Would we of lost that much by playing 4-5-1? Refreshing that we had a go (somewhat) but Rafa knew what he had to play with. It is going to take time to bring back some adaptability in our play.
We have seen players leave Liverpool, who maybe did not excel, but no one wanted them to leave as they had quality. Crouch, Keane, Bellamy, Alonso and so. All top players. Rafa used the money to the best of his ability to try and develop a winning XI. No one in the stands has had much confidence in the squad over the years. So what has happened to the developing players?
The 90’s brought some of the greatest players in Liverpool’s history; Gerrard, Carra, Fowler, McMannaman, Owen. The Legends of Daglish, Souness, Keegan, all brought into the club. The previously successful conveyor belt of Academy Players ceased under Rafa. Where are the new stars of the club? Cries from the Kop for Pacehco, Kelly, Spearing have rung out for years now. Where would we be now if these players developed into established first teamers? Indications show Roy is looking to change this. Investment into youngsters has worked previously; Hodgson needs to re-ignite this flame.
Success in cup competitions and Europe; falling short on the national front. Can Hodgson bring back those days back? It remains to be seen. Rafa will always be remembered for Istanbul, and Cardiff, folklore stories for the remainder of time.
So what blueprint has Rafa left the club? A tactically inspired, rigid one dimensional team, 4-5-1, solid enough to win tight and tense European and Cup games. A collapsed development system which has seen the likes of Stephen Warnock, Danny Guthrie and Adam Hammill move on, the system which threatens the like of Spearing, Pacheco and Kelly becoming top players. Roy, will have his work cut out to change not only the fortunes, but DNA of the club…