What Will Benitez Make of the Liverpool Squad?

Posted by Paul Tomkins on June 5, 2004, 11:51:10 AM

Assuming reports are correct, and Rafael Benitez doesn't opt for Inter Milan (and, duly panicked, we end up with a Joe Kinnear/David Pleat Bad-Dream Team), then we will have one of Europe's best young managers (if not the best). But what will Rafa make of the squad he inherits? Who will survive and prosper, and who will be heading for the door? (Why do people only seem to use doors in a 'leaving the club' sense? - don't the players use doors on a daily basis to merely enter or leave a building? Anyway, I digress).

I'm assuming Benitez will spend the summer watching both Euro2004, with one eye on targets (and Liverpool's representatives) and, possibly far-less-exciting, the full-length videos (some from the dark winter months for adult-only consumption) of Liverpool last season, and possibly the one before as well.

What will he make of what he sees? Will he reach conclusions on the videos, or make a clear-out based on recommendations of the coaching staff? Will he wait a season (or until the January window) to assess the players with his own eyes before making a cull? Given that there will inevitably be additions, it seems our squad will quickly become bloated. With the shy-and-retiring and unbelievably modest and humble Jose Mourinho claiming to want a pared-down squad at Chelsea (much like Arsenal's), you can only assume Benitez will feel the same. 

So what will he make of the squad he is inheriting? Here is my take on the playing staff, in no particular order, with a particularly in-depth look at the incoming Djibril Cisse.


  Chris Kirkland

Strengths: [/b] Extremely tall (how very observant I am), he is also very agile. A very good shot stopper, and commands his area extremely well. Very strong mentally; you hear him interviewed and he comes across as a man in his late 20s/early 30s. Also a genuine boyhood Red (from Leicester), although that didn't inspire Emile Heskey to the heights he could have attained, and for some reason the majority of our best players always seem to be boyhood Blues...

Weaknesses: Not too many relating to his game - main weakness seems to be osteopathic, with easily (or at least too-frequently) broken bones and, soon after arriving, neck problems. The only thing that concerns me is his slow reactions when coming out of his goal; quick initially to ten yards out, but hesitates after; the best keepers are quick to sweep outside their area. The penalty he conceded at Newcastle came from not reacting quick enough to a through-ball to Laurent Robert; it was there to be intercepted, but he dithered, making Robert favourite; something I'd noticed it a couple of times in previous games.

Verdict: Could be the Liverpool keeper for the next 15 years if he clears up his fitness niggles. Certain to be kept on. Still very young for a goalkeeper - like centre backs, you don't get a fully reliable player in those positions until the mid-20s. The manager's decision will be whether he is reliable enough to be No.1, or to risk losing him by consigning him to the bench. If Kirkland is made No.1, Jerzy Dudek will not want to spend his prime years on the bench. Trouble then is if CK gets injured.


  Jerzy Dudek

Strengths: [/b] Extremely agile - is probably called the Polish word for 'cat' in his homeland. Has done well to rebuild his confidence towards the end of this season, but has mainly thrived due to the security of being the only choice (with Kirkland injured), which removed the threat of losing his place. (I still think goalkeeper is the one position where extremely well-matched competition for places often results only in nervousness. Ideally you would have a clear-cut first choice who never got injured, and an adequate benchwarmer - Jerzy's problems only really appeared as Kirkland pushed for a starting place; initially CK was clearly number two). To me, goalkeeper, centre back and centre forward are the positions where mistakes most affect the confidence; midfielders and wide men tend to be able to make mistakes and for them to not appear so glaring or crucial.

Weaknesses: Punching when he should catch; there was one really easy chest-high catch (against Birmingham?) when he opted for a truly bizarre punch and I could only cringe. He is also not very tall for a keeper.

Verdict: Despite his partially-appalling 2002/03, his debut year remains the best season in recent memory by a Liverpool keeper. Is approaching his peak years, but it has to be questioned if he can ever truly exorcise the demons that arose during winter of 2002. Once doubts set in, they are hard to erase.

 
  Djibril Cisse

Strengths: [/b] Phenomenal pace, good physique, and the self-belief and willingness to shoot-on-sight of a natural striker. Top league scorer in France this season, with 26, seven ahead of the competition, including Drogba. With defences likely to sit extra-deep against Cisse and Owen, a lot will depend on the quickness of his feet in tight spaces rather than in sprints; an opposing penalty area crowded by cautious defenders denying him space behind can be overcome by working half-a-yard to get a shot away - and unlike Heskey, the man he is replacing, he strikes the ball particularly cleanly and fiercely. Played every league game in France last season, so despite hamstring-shredding pace, reliable (touch wood!) in that sense.

Weaknesses: His control has let him down at times when I've seen him; he certainly isn't yet in the Henry class in that sense, but his touch is improving all the time. His temperament also needs keeping in check: threw his shirt off when substituted at Anfield (still, no one likes to see a player happy to be substituted) and got a four game ban for kicking an opponent for France U21s which rules him out of Euro2004.

Verdict: In theory, perfect for the Premiership, and perfect for Liverpool. Made sense to do the deal despite Houllier's exit, as any manager in the world would want to work with a young player this good. A lot depends on how he dovetails with Mickey, and on our tactics, so we avoid falling into the trap of aimless long balls for him to chase, and overcome defences sitting deep to nullify the threat of his pace.

Having seen all his goals for Auxerre this season, I was most impressed by the variety. Surprisingly, not too many relied merely on blistering pace; although the turbo-charge is clearly very frightening! A couple of goals came from giving a defender a ten yard start and was past him about two yards later! When he did get clear, the way he rounded the keeper was absolutely top-notch: real conviction - what you need - and very quick feet to bamboozle the keeper. Seems better than Owen in this respect, although also opted for the "Owen-Slide" when one-on-one, tucking it past the keeper and into the corner. A lot of tap-ins by being quick in the mind as well as with sprints - very reminiscent of Mickey in anticipating things falling his way in the box, although they can't both follow the same shots in looking for rebounds and take up the same central positions; one will have to drift wider.

It's clear that Cisse is a 'proper' finisher. His movement for some of the goals where he checked his run and found space by pulling away from defenders were the real deal. The amount of poacher's goals suggests we will be okay if teams defend deep, as he is so lively in the box and capable of losing his marker.

Most surprising were the technically amazing goals - the Henry-esque strikes. There is a lot craft and subtlety in his boots. One volley was top-notch. Another chip from a fairly acute angle was one of the best I have ever seen - it was like watching half the Liverpool team chip Dave Beasant at Stamford Bridge in 1989. This was a peach into the top corner. In the same game DC rocketed a shot into the other top corner. Some finishes were hammered, others caressed into the bottom corners: one was superbly disguised - looked like he was going to send it one way, but went the other. So overall, a very encouraging amount of variety.


  Djimi Traore

Strengths: [/b] Lots of pace. Telescopic legs for great last-ditch tackles... or fouls.

Weaknesses: Sloppy control, lack of concentration.

Verdict: Never reached the levels expected of him, but there are no guarantees that any teenager will progress smoothly. Looks like he could succeed, relatively speaking, at a smaller Premiership club. I don't see a future at Liverpool, and could be at West Brom very soon.


  Igor Biscan

Strengths: [/b] Pace, increasing strength, good touch, tall and good in the air, athletic - in theory, the perfect modern footballer.

Weaknesses: Lapses in concentration. Confidence looks a bit too fragile to be a top player. 

Verdict: In some ways an enigma. I felt he ranged from very good to superb at centre back for 75% of last season, and we kept plenty of clean sheets with him in the side, as well as producing most of our best attacking displays. But in the other games he ranged from poor to "Oh Good Lord...". Perhaps there's a bit of the Andy Cole Phenomenon about him (in that it didn't matter how many goals Cole scored, he was still held up as a figure of ridicule every time he missed). Ultimately, though, the top centre backs make very few errors, and he exceeded his limit last time round. He remains a versatile player at a good age, and seems to be toughening up a little, so maybe the midfield holding role beckons if Didi moves on.


  Steve Finnan

Strengths: [/b] Talented passer and excellent crosser - at least he was at Fulham. Has yet to show the form from his Craven Cottage days.

Weaknesses: Lack of authority. Plays with his shoulders hunched - doesn't look like he is a commanding presence. I feel the team has had too many players who have been unable to cope with the pressure at Anfield and impose themselves on their teammates and on the game itself.

Verdict: Had a poor first season, but every player deserves one season's grace when settling at a new club (involving off-the-pitch aspects, such as moving house or living out of a suitcase in a hotel), and into a new team (understanding new teammate's strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps a new tactical approach). Was unfortunate to have an interrupted pre-season, and so was always playing catch-up, fitness-wise, and then got injured mid-season again. Next season is make-or-break.


  Danny Murphy

Strengths: [/b] One of the best finishers at the club; if he could get into the box more, he'd get hatfuls. When on form, he has the capability to thread a cunning pass to the strikers. Regarded by many as the best football "thinker" on the playing staff. Also, the best penalty taker at the club - and in the last two seasons, where he has scored eight out of eight - the only reliable one. Given how many we win (and how many more Cisse will help us win), could be worth his place in the side for penalties - unless we sign someone more capable. He is also the only free-kick taker I'd trust with a strike on goal.

Weaknesses: Lack of pace makes bursting into the box from midfield more tricky. Can be too slow in possession, caught on the ball; the very best players make their minds up quicker.

Verdict: What you get doesn't always add up to what you want from Danny. Should be suited to a quicker-passing one-touch style if Benitez gets everyone on the same wavelength, but needs to cut out the dithering. Scores crucial goals, and if Benitez can get yet more improvement out of him, he may win over the sceptics. At the very least, he is a valuable squad player.


  Steven Gerrard

Strengths: [/b] Where to begin? Where do they end? Great stamina, wonderful vision, cracking shot, awesome pace, superb tackler, total dedication and whole-hearted competitor. Just the perfect modern footballer, and getting better all the time. One aspect we're missing out on: on reviewing recent season videos, I noticed how many goals he headed from Gary Mac's free-kicks and corners before Gerrard started taking them himself; with his height and ability in the air, we could do with finding someone else to take them as well as he does (which Danny Murphy started doing, but was left out for Diouf for much of the season). Thrived under the pressure of being Liverpool captain - amazing for one so young.

Weaknesses: Um... Um... Left foot isn't the greatest. Used to be guilty of rash - and often ugly - tackles, but only got two bookings, and only one of those was for a foul.

Verdict: The most complete footballer ever to play for Liverpool; not quite up to Dalglish's standards as the best-ever, but able to do more things well than even King Kenny; just doesn't have the experience yet. Never has a Liverpool player played so much better than his teammates during a season; others contributed, but Gerrard was carrying the team for much of it. He is the kind of player you build your side around. It's just a shame as we can't clone him, as he is a wonderful full-back and right-sided midfielder too. Thankfully he wants to achieve success at Liverpool and like Michael Owen, will only look elsewhere as a final measure.


  John Arne Riise

Strengths: [/b] Phenomenal stamina, tidy control, cracking shot (when he gets it right). A talented player, he could be so much better with experience.

Weaknesses: Been inconsistent at Liverpool, but then young players still learning the game can be affected in this way. A strong tackler, he doesn't always use his brain enough when defending, and also when attacking - going for the 70-yard-punt upfield, or shooting from 40-yards. Crosses tend to be fired aimlessly across goal (although that type of cross can also result in own-goals and Owen goals). Then there are the free-kicks. If I hear one more media-man tell me that he has scored some stunning free-kicks for Liverpool I will scream; he has scored one utterly amazing free-kick, and no others. Zilch. Zip. Someone needs to point out that the wall is there to avoid, not hit.

Verdict: Doubts remain, but still has the basics in place to be an all-time great left back. Perhaps lacks the pace to catch the blisteringly-quick wingers, but is not slow either.


  Salif Diao

Strengths: [/b] Quick and strong. Tackles well. 

Weaknesses: Doesn't possess a great footballing brain.

Verdict: A merely average player who would have done a good job at a club like West Brom. Bought possibly as mere back-up, and it shows, although he did look superb in a couple of games. Almost certain to be sold.


  Milan Baros

Strengths: [/b] Totally positive - gets the ball and runs, makes things happen: the kind of mentality that could have made Heskey, who was bigger and quicker, a world-beater. I especially liked the way Milan gave us something different in the second half of the season, and constantly made b-lines for the byline before drilling quality balls across the box (on the occasions he got his head up).

Weaknesses: Head-down approach means he's not ideal for others to link with. Some question his goalscoring record, but despite not getting a regular run in 2002/03, he scored 12 goals in only 20-odd starts.

Verdict:   I'm a huge fan of Baros, but he does frustrate as well; sometimes you have to accept that from players trying to be positive, and it not coming off. Did well to come back from a bad injury, and unsettled dozens of defenders whilst only finding the net twice. Still young and learning, and should remain third-choice striker behind Owen and Cisse, although if Benitez goes with one up front, that will further limit his opportunites - even though the lone-striker role is possibly what suits him most (see his wonderful record for the Czech Republic in that very role).


  Florent Sinama-Pongolle

Strengths: [/b] Lovely control and blistering pace. Not a diver, he won several penalties and was also wrongly denied several more.

Weaknesses: Small and slight. His finishing hasn't matched his approach play.

Verdict: Has time on his side and remains a wonderful prospect; it is crazy that some people are judging him and Le Tallec so harshly. From my experience as a striker when stepping up to new levels, I can suggest he is probably coming to terms with the improved quality in goalkeepers he is facing after graduating from youth team football - seems to hit his shots too close to the keepers, which at a lower level of football will be enough to score hatfuls; to beat keepers like Niemi, Cudicini et al you need to find the corners or, fluke aside, you stand no chance. Hasn't had a run in the side to feel confident, nor will sporadic appearances have helped him fully come to terms with the pace and brutality of the Premiership. Despite all that, like Le Tallec he still featured more than expected, and both are huge talents we can hope to enjoy for years to come.


  Neil Mellor

Strengths: [/b] Clearly a natural finisher, with a nice variety to how he gets his goals. Big and strong.

Weaknesses: Not especially quick, but not sluggish either. His play outside the box remains sub-standard but is apparently improving.

Verdict: A bit of an enigma after his disastrous loan spell at West Ham, although circumstances weren't favourable. 47 goals in 47 LFC reserve games is phenomenal. But the size of Liverpool's squad meant that in a lot of his teammates (especially the attacking ones) were full internationals, so part of it is down to playing in a far superior team that is creating loads of clear-cut chances (and against reserve teams in lower divisions who don't even have half-decent first teams). Has been served up the kind of chances on a plate he won't get in first team football. Would be advised by me (but what do I know?) to take the Crewe loan spell, where he would be guaranteed games, and impress Benitez that way, getting some experience in the process. He isn't ready for the Liverpool first team, and may ultimately end up at a mid-table Premiership side.


  Anthony Le Tallec

Strengths: [/b] Vision in abundance and, rare for that kind of deep-lying striker, also exceptional in the air. Can score goals and create them. Not afraid to tackle either.

Weaknesses: Inexperience (of course), and still finding his feet in both first-team football, and football in this country.

Verdict: Excelled in the reserves playing off the main striker - the role we bought him for (but a role which GH never seemed to favour). He needs to come to terms with the pace of the game over here, but there have been some very encouraging signs, even if only in fleeting glimpes for the first team. No lesser man that Zidane said recently that Le Tallec will do well at a club like Liverpool. While it may still be a year or two too soon to see ALT excel, he could still be the surprise package of next season, depending on the formation Benitez opts for. Once it clicks into place, he will soar. As Arsene Wenger (who was livid at missing out on him) said of David Bentley but which applies equally to ALT and FSP, players of this age present a dilemma:

"We have a big squad of young players. The biggest difficulty I have is when you have to manage them between 19 and 22. Do you get him out on loan or put him in the squad? Do you put him in the first team straight away? It is very difficult. I would like to get him some experience. He is a great talent and he needs to play now.”


  Harry Kewell

Strengths: [/b] A genuine goalscoring midfielder, and just an excellent all-round footballer. Delivers great quality into the box from his left foot. Quick, and also fairly robust for a flair player. Also good in the air. A versatile player, he can also play up front as he is such a good finisher.

Weaknesses: Accused of not imposing himself on matches week-in, week-out. Still to be convince that his right foot is for anything more than standing on.

Verdict: Mixed first season - mostly excellent before injury struck - and he was never himself physically after that. Also didn't have the best pre-season; fortunately he'll have the summer off to cure his persistent ankle problem, so he should come back fresh, fit and hungry. Chose Liverpool ahead of other clubs due to his affection for Liverpool FC, so is dedicated to this club, but the new man will need to decide on the best position for Harry - a lack of direction for the team in general can't have helped, and he will benefit from a quicker passing style of play. Capable of forming an awesome attacking triumvirate with Cisse and Owen.


  Michael Owen

Strengths: [/b] Just a wonderfully natural finisher who doesn't necessarily need his pace to score goals; he just needs to work himself half-a-yard in the box and knows exactly where to place the ball. He is extremely good in the air, but obviously isn't going to win many headers against far taller opponents; flash a dangerous cross into the box, though, and he'll get up to head well. Has also worked on his left foot, and while not perfect, the fact that he can have defenders in two minds as to which way he'll drag the ball is priceless, as is the way he'll shoot with his left foot rather than make a pig's ear of trying to get it onto his right foot - thus making him far less one-dimensional.
 
Mentally, is tough as can be. Has do deal with so much expectation, and I don't know of any other player who the press write off so frequently, only to be proven wrong each time. Doesn't always receive the best service –– or rather, it can lack variety. His understanding with Gerrard is crucial. Owen is just very single-minded and driven. His ambition may take him elsewhere, but no one can accuse him of not giving Liverpool consistently excellent service for the best part of a decade.

Weaknesses: Physical - the serious hamstring strains seem to be a thing of the past, but he didn't seem to be running at full-pelt last season. His style means he's not easy to play up front with, but would have benefited from a Beardsley-type creator (preferably a taller one, like Sheringham in his prime). Litmanen seemed a good foil on paper (unfortunately, they didn't share much time together on grass) and Anelka's ability to drop deep and drift wide but also spot a pass made him another excellent candidate, as he was tall and strong like Emile. Cisse's arrival (if Benitez goes with two up front - and he should, with these two: the calibre of goalscorers with phenomenal pace he didn't have in Spain) should help massively, by giving defenders a lot more to worry about; capable of using his pace to set up goals, Cisse can also lift the burden on Mickey of being the main goalscorer. Michael's final weakness: penalties - they're rubbish.

Verdict: Says it all that despite missing 1/3 of the league season, and not reaching the all-round form of previous seasons, he still ended up only two league goals short of his best Premiership tally. Retains a goal ratio of one-in-two, and 25 international goals confirms his quality. Such are the expectations that when he misses a few chances he gets written off. Hopefully Benitez's arrival will persuade him to stay, but even if he does leave he has promised to not do so on a Bosman. I fully expect him to sign a new deal now, but if there is no improvement in the team in two years' time (hard to believe) he could be off. He is a big game player - thriving on the pressure.


  Sami Hyypia

Strengths: [/b] Just an extremely clever centre back, with superb positional sense; doesn't commit himself and go to ground when he tackles so makes players do something special to get past him. Scores vital goals and unusally for a giant centre back, has scored a few good ones with his feet (away at Auxerre being the pick). Must have the least number of bookings for a centre-half over the last five years, and also doesn't miss games through injuries. Totally commanding in the air.

Weaknesses: Not a natural leader of men; introverted on the pitch, and leads by example only. Makes up for a lack of pace with excellent positional sense, but that will only get you so far against players like Thierry Henry (luckily there aren't too many with that much skill to go with the pace). Shouldn't slow down in his early-30s, as he has no pace to lose.

Verdict: Should have years left at the top but needs someone with pace alongside him to give us a balanced back four. Benitez works on the defensive side of the game, and I'd be very surprised if he didn't want to build a new defence around Sami.


  Stephane Henchoz

Strengths: [/b] No-nonsense defending - gets in the way of any shot or cross.

Weaknesses: Lack of pace. Tends to defend too deep as a result.

Verdict: As both H-men lack pace, one has to make way for a quicker player. For me it would be Henchoz, as Sami is the better player, and also the more commanding in the air - which you need at least one of your centre backs to be in the modern game, with super-quick forwards.


  Jamie Carragher

Strengths: [/b] A natural defender who is totally committed, to LFC and in every game and every challenge. Continues to defy his critics, and GH would always find a place for him in the side; as such JC tried to improve the offensive side of his game, but is never going to be Ashley Cole. Carra's versatility means at the very least you'd want him on the bench. Ended the season at centre back, and now he is older, that could be his best position.

Weaknesses: Not really slow, but does lack that extra yard of pace, so as a partner for Sami he may not be ideal.

Verdict: It's hard to say what Benitez will make of Carra; it may be that a quick passing game will pass JC by, as passing sides are only as good as the weakest passer (i.e. it's no good passing it around if the moves always break down with one or two players).


  El Hadji Diouf

Strengths: [/b] Words hard, excellent dribbler.

Weaknesses: Attitude has been appalling - far more bookings than goals; let GH down by not returning from the ANC on time; then broke a club curfew and was promptly banished from the squad for the remainder of the season. The spitting incident remains an ugly flashpoint. No end product to his build-up play - just 22 league goals in the last SIX seasons. Runs down too many blind alleys.

Verdict: The cup game against Blackburn showed how good he can be, but then again, his marker had been sent off and so he had lots of time and space. May stand a chance as Benitez was in charge when Valencia wanted Diouf in 2002, but Benitez didn't always pick who the club signed. Like Heskey, EHD will be most remembered as an attacking player who tracked back and did his bit; so did Rush, but he still found time to score 346 goals.


  Vladimir Smicer

Strengths: [/b] A quick, clever footballer who is capable of scoring more goals than he has.

Weaknesses: Physically strong enough, but too often doesn't look. Finishing is wayward for someone with such natural ability in front of goal.

Verdict: I rate Vladi very highly as a player, but he simply hasn't been consistent enough; the best players perform well eight times out of ten, not three or four. Injuries haven't helped: just when he looks at his best, he gets crocked. Needs to be playing in a pass-and-move style, so Benitez's approach may suit him better. Remains the best substitute at the club - able to come on and instantly get involved. Maybe this is also due to his inability to impose himself for ninety minutes. If he's sold, he won't be able to complain, but as he doesn't have much sell-on value at his age, I'd give him one more season, to see if he can flourish yet.


  Markus Babbel

Strengths: [/b] Good all-round defender who, in the Treble season, was invaluable at both ends of the pitch. Experienced big-game big-club player.

Weaknesses: Not super quick, but gets by.

Verdict: It's not clear if he was back to his best at Blackburn, where the team struggled defensively, but to be playing regular football again at any decent level was a huge achievement after his year out with Guillame-Barre Syndrome; seemed to do well early in the season at Ewood Park. Fell out with GH after a poor attitude in the reserves, but perhaps it was just sheer frustration at struggling to find form and fitness again. Now possibly has the chance to re-establish himself under a new boss, unless the club decide to cut their losses on his large wages. We would be stupid to let him go if he was capable of reaching his old heights.


  Bruno Cheyrou

Strengths: [/b] A talented footballer. Skillful, and a good finisher; has two French caps from his time at Anfield (based mostly on his reputation from France). New Spurs' boss Santini tried to pay £2m more than we did for him in 2002 when he was still boss of Lyon.

Weaknesses: Perhaps only a lack of character; and in football, at times that can be everything. He isn't even physically "slight" - he's a big strong lad. Just hasn't matched up to the Pires template of a skillful Frenchman adapting to the game over here; it took Pires six months, and we're still waiting for Bruno after two years.

Verdict: My favourite quote about Cheyrou was when he said of himself: "I was told I still needed to toughen up in French football". Suggests he never stood a chance here. If Benitez can work his magic, then he may have a future, but my rule is: one year to settle, and by the second you should be delivering. It hasn't happened, with the exception of a very promising January; although even then he wasn't contributing a lot to the flow of the game, but I'd settle for him standing on the halfway line picking his nose for 89 minutes if he could pop up with a goal every game. It'd be nice to think he could come good, and become consistently dangerous, but I don't think there'll be too many complaints if we cut our losses.


Didi Hamann

Strengths: [/b] Brilliant reading of the game. Doesn't tend to go flying into tackles, but nicks the balls off of opponent's toes. Very good in possession in tight situations, shielding the ball or laying it off intelligently, or running with it until falling over theatrically and winning a free-kick. Like Riise, can shoot brilliantly from open play but free-kicks mostly atrocious. Extremely experienced player; not many Liverpool players have played in a World Cup final (was he the first since Hunt in 1966?).

Weaknesses: Not the quickest, and doesn't get forward much from open play; at times at Anfield we've not needed that protective shield in front of the back four, whereas away in the big games and in Europe he can be invaluable.

Verdict: Constantly linked with a move back to Bayern, he only has a year left on his contract. There is no-one better at what he does; debate tends to be whether we need someone who sits so deep in the midfield for most of the game, or whether a quicker, younger man, such as Owen Hargreaves, could make the midfield a little more dynamic. If we attack more as a team under Benitez, then we could need Didi even more than before.


  John Welsh

Strengths: [/b] An extremely promising all-round player: tenacious and strong in the tackle, with a good range of passing and, in the reserves, an eye for goal.

Weaknesses: Not the quickest or the tallest. He may develop to have similar technical levels to Steven Gerrard, but he will never match his athleticism. Perhaps slightly unflattering, but reminds me of a more skillful version of David Batty (who was a very tidy, if uninspiring passer). 

Verdict: One for the future, perhaps even the near future, and should be ahead of Diao in the queue; could find himself further down the pecking order in new midfielders arrive. Could use a First Division loan, and would have had a couple of month at Sunderland at the end of last season, but for an injury. In time could make the Didi role his own, but of course currently lacks the German's experience and reading of the game.


  Jon Otsemobor

Strengths: [/b] Very quick with good skill levels. Looked brilliant in a couple of games; raw in his other opportunities.

Weaknesses: Inexperience, and poor positional play, which affects a lot of young full-backs.

Verdict: Needs a First Division loan spell; like Mellor, his loan last season was a disaster. Needs to go somewhere where he'll get experience. Then we'll have a better idea of whether he has what it takes. Certainly capable of being a decent Premiership play in a few years, but like Mellor, it might be with a mid-table team.


© Paul Tomkins 2004

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