“Spine damage” the real diagnosis for Red’s ills?

Like tricoteuses at the guillotine during the French Revolution the media watch as our team’s season supposedly starts to show signs of unravelling.

Benitez as gone on record today saying that we are also lacking confidence. Significantly though he does not elaborate on why this is. However privately, behind closed doors, he must surely be asking how, after such a good start, it has come to this?

No less luminary than Hugh McIlvanney of the Sunday Times has covered the situation. What comes next is a bit of a cheek given the quality of some the dross that’s been served up in this blog over the last year or so but so here goes anyway…

Although I would never doubt his reputation, awards and the fact that he has a command of language that one could only dream of, I always, frustratingly and disappointingly, find McIlvanney’s writing difficult to absorb. It’s probably me but his points just don’t slip easily into the mind. Perhaps if he wrote in crayon I’d understand it more? However, I find his prose rich and over elaborate like a Christmas pudding chock a block with fruit and butter, saturated in brandy with an inch of icing on to the top? You know it should be good but it’s just too much. Invariable I give up reading his articles after the second paragraph and after a few attempts of rereading it. Simple English is not a phrase that springs to my mind when he writes. Nonetheless mindful of the subject I persevered and in fairness, his points, once you’ve “sandblasted” away the excess wordage, are well made.

For a full unabridged rich version with double cream, marizpan, suet and liqueur click here. One bit that me got thinking was this..

“No squad, however expensive or carefully recruited, can have a democracy of abilities. There must be an elite and it makes sense to field that elite as often as possible using the depth of the squad to compensate for loss of form, of fitness or of competitive edge..”

What is the “elite” of our team? The spine, around which the first eleven is built? I guess it’s, from the back, Reina in goal, then Carragher and Agger in defence, Gerrard and one of either Alonso or Mascherano (or both?) in midfield and upfront? Most people would suggest Torres and one other?

This “line up” is debatable but the basis is there and, for all the blame we through at rotation, perhaps we should also look at the team’s spine as an explanation as to why things have gone a askew?

In goal Jose Reina has been as dependable as ever. People say is he is a great shot stopper but you don’t keep as many clean sheets as he has without having other attributes to your game. In the back four there has been disruption. Agger is out with a metatarsal injury and will be for at least another month. Prior to this Jamie Carragher was out with a broken rib. Since his return Jamie hasn’t been at 100%. He was involved, although not entirely culpable, in both the goals we conceded on Sunday. He is also missing Agger’s pace at the back something that Hyypia, his replacement, doesn’t have now, remember how he was left for dead by Sektioui causing Reina to upend him for a penalty in the Porto game? The stats prove that the defence has been one our success stories so far this season however, they will encounter sterner tests than they have so far. Significantly Keane and Berbatov were the only duo of genuine class they have faced this season (yes, I believe that) and look what happened.

Midfield has also seen us disrupted, non more so than with Steven Gerrard’s broken toe. Would he have really returned so soon had there not been two important England games to play? Was he rushed back too soon and are we now reaping the consequences of this? It certainly seems so as since his return he hasn’t been the same player. Is this lack of match fitness or confidence? One assumes it’s nothing to do with the fact that he now seems to be playing permanently in the middle as he has said that’s were he prefers to play.

Perhaps we could afford to let Gerrard ease his way back into things had Xabi Alonso been fit? However he is another metatarsal victim. Add to this Maschernao playing “catch up” because of his late return from Copa America duties and the midfield is beginning to show signs of having, with due respect to other players, plenty of Indians but a notable lack of chiefs.

Up front is the area where we have been injury free however, this has not convincingly transferred itself into goals recently. One can point to Benitez’s failure to select Torres, the increasing unrest and decreasing confidence of Peter Crouch and the constant mixing and matching. This is a position where a good, confidence building, run in the side is probably more key than anywhere else in the eleven. Could Rafa have done better by not doing so much?

So, even though he has trumpeted the depth and quality of the squad, has Rafa been unlucky to lose key players. Has “the spine” not been as rigid as it usually is and has this fact been clouded by rotation? We may never know the answer, even when the likes of Agger and Alonso return and Gerrard hits form, is there any guarantee that the spine will remain rigid and that Rafa will content himself to “rotate around the edge”?

Me? I’m no doctor but I would think it’s probably not a good idea to spin around too much when you’ve got spine damage!

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