Friday, 12 September 2008

We need to talk about Dirk…

If the snippets we’ve seen thus far of Jamie Carragher’s brilliantly frank autobiography are just the start of what his book has to offer, I’d be very interested to see how the straight talking scouser would, in all honesty, feel about Dirk Kuyt. Like most of us, I’m sure he appreciates the Netherlander’s work rate; I bet he likes the tracking back to help the defence as well. But, if he was really honest, he’ll probably ask the same question as the rest of us.

Why is he still in the first team?

Bought as a striker for the not too shabby price of £9 million, Kuyt was a goal scoring animal in the Eredivisie. Okay, we’ve all heard that Mateja Kezman was too in his day, and we all know how that turned out, but still this was the man who Marco van Basten trusted ahead of Ruud van Nistelrooy at the 2006 World Cup. That decision to put him in against Portugal proved fruitless of course but still we thought there must be something about him if managers across Europe wanted to take him on anyway.

Ever since the get go he has proved to be a workaholic, though unfortunately one who quite often hasn’t a clue what his job is. As Johnny Giles once said about him; if he stayed still for a minute or two a decent pass might come his way. As things stand he’s often too knackered by the time he’s in a good position to take advantage of it – one example came at the end of last season in a game at Man City who were at the time Pool’s main competition for fourth spot in the table.

For the first 85 minutes – despite supposedly playing in a 4-4-2 alongside Torres (this is prior to Rafa Benitez hitting on the 4-3-3 formation which worked to a decent degree towards the end of last season) he spent the entire game covering in at left back, in central midfield, on the wings and resisting the urge to catch the frickin ball at corners in case Pepe Reina didn’t reach it. Essentially he was everywhere except where he should be. Then when he finally got a chance to win the match – a header from all of three yards – he offered a limp effort that was easily stopped by Richard Dunne. Torres, Berbatov, Yakubu, Owen… all these guys and more would have scored in that position.

Now of course he is bizarrely un-droppable in his new position as a right winger, a morphed version of where he played towards the end of the 07/08 season when he formed a front three with Torres and either Steven Gerrard, Ryan Babel or Yossi Benayoun. Instead of being allowed to cut in to support Torres, he is now asked to make chances for the front two of Liverpool’s number 9 and Robbie Keane.

Though it seems no one has told Kuyt this, as he continues to head infield with the ball leaving no one on the right as he meanders across the pitch before generally losing possession.

Even if Kuyt were to score a hat trick on Saturday against Man U it still wouldn’t change the fact that he would be better suited to being an energetic sub than a first teamer.

Benitez of course lauds his work-rate after each match and that of course can’t be faulted, but the way Kuyt is playing is inhibiting Keane and even Torres to a certain extent. He is uncomfortable on the wing and I can’t blame him, the guy has played through the middle for his entire career. The last 20 years is littered with players of a far higher calibre than Kuyt who struggled when moved on to the right away from their favoured position up front.

Think of Gary Lineker looking lost whilst trying to put in crosses at Barcelona. What about Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero who both suffered as they battled for the same spot, the famed ‘in the hole’ role alongside the main striker, during their time at Juve. Del Piero would outlast Baggio and claim the number 10 position from his fellow Italian legend but months of the 93/94 season (which Juve lost to Milan) saw confusion over who should take the central role and who should play out the wing.

Thierry Henry too suffered last season as he was, like Lineker, forced to play on the right wing for Barca. Even Wayne Rooney has been wasted on many occasions by Manchester United when utilising his versatility to put him out on the right (something which Ferguson admitted in pre season).

If all these guys couldn’t do it, what chance has a plodder like oul’ Dirky got?

All these moves were of course ‘for the good of the team’ yet none of these teams proved particularly successful when such positional confusion reigned (except Man U last season obviously, who used positional confusion as a tactic). Lineker won only a Copa Del Rey with Barca during three years there; Henry won nothing last season and Juve only regained the Serie A title when Baggio was relegated to the bench.

You can’t just turn a player into something he’s not overnight – as Steve Finnan at left back under Stan Staunton and Damien Duff as a second striker under Mick McCarthy proved for Ireland as well.

If Liverpool persist with a 4-4-2, with Albert Riera now likely to take on the left midfield role, the problem is obviously that with the exception of Jermaine Pennant there is no defined right sided midfielder, a situation that the central midfield-obsessed Benitez must take the blame for.

But instead of Kuyt, I think nearly every Liverpool fan would implore the Spaniard to put Babel, or even Gerrard there. Players who can actually cross and produce something unexpected, which for all the work in the world will never come from Kuyt.

Personally, and by now most of you should know I’m a Pool fan, my first team would be the 4-3-3 from last year only with Keane to Torres’ right, and Babel (or Riera) to his left, leaving Mascherano anchoring the middle with Gerrard and Alonso in front of him. As mentioned before, Liverpool have virtually no width so why play a system that requires it? At the moment, Kuyt spends his time running this way and that, often bumping into Keane in the middle, while the equally central-minded Benayoun does virtually the same from the left. At the very least jettison Kuyt for Babel.

Essentially, Dirk and his dodgy first touch must be banished from the Pool first eleven if they are achieve anything this season. At the moment this seems unlikely though, and I have a sneaky suspicion that in ten years time when somebody shows up ProZone for the hunk of junk it quite possibly is you’ll read an article with a sentence along the lines of…

‘… the system, which lead to managers being blinded by stats over sense when judging limited players like Jermaine Jenas, Dirk Kuyt and Ji Sung Park has since been banished to hell…’

Maybe not the hell part but at the moment ProZone is the only reason I can see for Kuyt continuing in the side. Anyway, as it seems he is set to stay in that first team for the time being, and in Torres’ absence he’ll most likely be asked to play as a striker on Saturday come high noon… so expect him making some goal line clearances by the seventh minute.

Dear god Rafa, make it stop.

Later, JJ


Mal said...

Good post JJ. I agree that Kuyt does look shit on the right in a 442. He did do well for us last year scoring around 7 goals in europe but that was on the right of a 433/4231 as you say. I like him as he's a great lad but I don't think that he's good enough for the first team. Impact sub sounds around right.

JJ said...

Cheers mal, yeah i think dirk really is the embodiment of rafa's caution. He does well against less than physical european sides but he has zero guile.

Parrotbait said...

Dirk Kuyt is my hero, much in the same way as John O'Shea is another hero of mine. How these guys remain at a top club is beyond me but these jokers manage it!
Whens the next podcast on the way, lots to talk about Ashley's new attempts to sell the club have failed quite comically!,17033,8652_4157242,00.html

JJ said...

New pod online by the end of the week - marko is away so I'm bringing in a supersub.

it could be a shaky process getting it online though as mark usually handles that end. Essentially he's the brains and I'm the talent, but sure I'll give it a whack. Love this ashley nonsense by the way - sipping mojitos with dennis wise while your lookalike gets the shit kicked out of him. You stay classy mike.

Anonymous said...

You're post looks fairly silly now in hindsight. MoTM contender on Saturday.

More than happy to have him in and around the squad, one of the few players we have with some fucking balls that's for certain. And scored vital goals in the CL last season too.

You just have to accept, as Dunphy said(wanker), Rafa puts sweat before ability, and its a fact, sadly. So even take Dirk out of the side, won't improve much, we'll have good games where we play some good stuff, and others where we play like Bolton circa Sam Allardyce.

Dirk is the least of our worries in other words. You need to take a look at the rest of the squad and ask why we aren't playing better football, Alonso, Gerrard, Masch, Torres, Riera, Aurelio, Dossena, Arbeloa, Yossi, Lucas, Skrtel, Agger, all good "footballers", yet so often are unable to maintain any kind of level, in a pure footballing sense.

JJ said...

Well I did say that he would probably have a cracker against united and lo and behold he did.

On the lack of decent football front, I think dirk is one of the key reasons pool don't play decent stuff due to his meandering around into the middle. I'll stick by the opinion that he should be an energetic sub rather than one of the first names on the teamsheet.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't disagree, we really should have strengthened in that area. Fuck knows what the Keane signing was all about. Schweinsteiger would have been a far more astute signing for my money. He's a free agent next Summer too, so maybe we're biding our time on that one, i imagine he'll have plenty of offers though. Man City probably likely to be willing to pay him the highest wages.

But i think our football, or lack thereof runs far deeper than poor ol' Dirk. We lack movement, all over the pitch. Alonso or Masch don't want, or at least aren't encouraged to get involved in the oppositions half.

When Torres and Keane play, where is Gerrard going to be placed on the pitch? In CM where he goes missing for 90 minutes? or on the right, where he's been most effective in the past imo but will sulk about it?