It’s been in the back of my mind since I glanced at the March/April fixture list a few months back and saw Manchester United (a), Everton (h) and Arsenal (a). The Champions League draw wasn’t going to make things easier and it didn’t, add a couple of Arsenal games to the one we’ve already got lined up, the last one being on my birthday – there are some presents loved ones will never ever be able to buy!
So over the next three weeks or so we will see just how much the side’s recent good form stacks up in the overall scheme of things. Carry it over into the games against The Mancs Everton and “Arsenal x3” then perhaps there will be genuine grounds for thinking that we can move forward after the hiccups and false starts this season. Fail and it won’t be the end of the world but a brave new one will still be no nearer?
Whatever the outcome it is important to give ourselves the best possible chance to show what we can really do in these games. That means fielding the best possible side, for ALL of them. Yes, ALL of them. In short the rotation should now stop!
However, Jamie Carragher in yesterday’s Times sounded out a warning
“The manager takes a lot of criticism (for his rotation policy), but over the last few weeks we haven’t been changing too much as there hasn’t been as many games. But with these five games coming up, plus the international games, I’m sure there might be a few changes. At this time of the season there are maybe a few tired legs and things just need freshening up every now and again.”
In fairness Rafa has curbed his rotation policy since the Barnsley cup exit. Games since then, according to The Times, have seen an average of 2.29 changes, what constitutes 0.29 of a change? I’m not against rotation but it needs to be sensible, and should never jeopardize our chances of picking up points and winning games. We have fallen foul of both these conditions this season mainly because Rafa has underestimated opposition (and his players?) and taken a longer term view rather than, as he does now, just “thinking about the next game”.
Many will agree with JC and say that the next few weeks will see some changes especially if we beat Everton to consolidate fourth place. Then Rafa might think about resting players in the Arsenal league game and concentrating on the Champions League? However, isn’t the period we are about to enter precisely the sort of eventuality Rafa has been resting players for throughout the season? Now is the time that all the “sacrifices” in so called lesser games should prove their worth? Rafa’s rotation has been patiently accepted by many because of this if we don’t try to reap the benefits at some stage what will have been the point of his policy?
I sometimes wonder if Rafa is guilty wrapping his players in too much cotton wool. Players are not sissies. They are young and fit enough to recover quickly from games and the club provides the best environment possible to enable them to do that. Surely this short period of congestion should not be beyond the stamina of our top players? Are the likes of Carragher and Gerrard going to ask Rafa for a rest? Of course not they will want to play every game. If players cannot replace any fatigue they have with excitement, motivation and desire for the games coming up then they should not wearing a red shirt. Surely these are the sort of games they joined the club for?
I accept my thinking is probably aspirational and somewhat devoid or pragmatism, woollied by desire to see the team do well in this difficult period. I’ve no doubt that we will see some chopping and changing but I should be kept to the bare minimum with no lapsing back into the old “all change” ways. I really don’t want to look back on these games and think about what might, or could have, been had Rafa played it differently or not been so cautious. I would rather see us play a full strength side and discover that we are not good enough than entertain that thought process.
The long and the short of it is that sometimes in life you just have stop putting things off and do it. It will be difficult but surely now is one of the times Rafa and his team must bite the bullet. Go for it!