Rotation only works if and when the squad is good enough

By Mark Lawrenson on Feb 20, 08 11:37 PM in Columnists


LIVERPOOL fans must be thinking this season is becoming like a stuck record. Another disappointing result, another debate about Rafael Benitez's rotation policy.

The Spaniard's decision to leave out goalkeeper Pepe Reina, striker Fernando Torres and midfielder Javier Mascherano while only giving the last 15 minutes to captain Steven Gerrard came back to haunt him when Barnsley poached an FA Cup shock in the closing minute.

It all adds to the pressure on the manager ahead of tonight's Champions League showdown with Inter Milan.

But while Benitez's selection process has plenty of critics, the manager still has plenty of support from the fans.

It is difficult to dislike Benitez - and I would not advocate getting rid of him - but come the summer he does need to take a serious look at whether trying to hold back players for later in the season is becoming counter productive.

It is all right trying to think about April and May - but not in August and September. If you do not get the right results at the right time it becomes an irrelevance.

Saving Gerrard, for example, for an end to the season that might have included an FA Cup final now means nothing because they did not get the result they needed without him.

And if they go out at the next stage of the Champions League to the Italians, what will have been achieved by holding back players?

Two major questions emerged from Saturday's early exit. Why do you need to rest a goalkeeper, especially when Reina's deputy Charles Itandje clearly still has much to learn?

And why were the players who were picked from Liverpool's squad not good enough to overcome the Championship side?

You can see Benitez's argument in wanting to protect his best players, but not if the rest of the squad are not capable of beating a team like Barnsley.

One of the real concerns at the moment is that when Liverpool are shorn of the likes of Torres, Gerrard and Jamie Carragher they struggle to make an impact.

Xabi Alonso seems to be playing with a passport stamped 'return to Spain' while Lucas drifts in and out of games. But they are not the only ones and this summer could see something of a cull at Anfield.

So starting with your best players as often as possible - and then resting them when the right result looks assured - is the way many fans would prefer that Liverpool approach games.

Liverpool's change in fortunes this season after a bright start can be traced back to the departure of Benitez's right hand man, Paco Aysteran.

Whether it is just a coincidence, it cannot be easy for him to shoulder all the responsibility and any manager needs people around him to bounce ideas off. And sometimes those people need to argue their case against some of the manager's ideas and at least offer an opposing view for him to consider.

At the risk of harking back to Liverpool's past glories, the Boot Room was always the place where the backroom staff could have a frank exchange of views.

They would get together on a Thursday to think about the team - and woe betide anyone who disturbed them. Bob Paisley would involve the likes of Tom Saunders, Ronnie Moran, Joe Fagan and John Bennison and each had their say.

Whatever was said about a player in the Boot Room stayed in the Boot Room.

It was the big meeting of the week and the type of discussions that went on was healthy for the good of the team.

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