Date: 1st September 2009 at 8:22am
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Liverpool are 2 – 0 down to Aston Villa and not looking like they can pull anything out of the hat. At that moment I think back to the line up and subs list read out before the game and try to think of anyone we have in reserve to come on and make an impact. To my dismay Reira is the only name I can pick to be a hero off the bench. The bench that day consisted of Cavalieri (GK), Ayala (CB), Kelly(CB/RB), Dossena (LB), Reira (LM), Babel (LM/S) and Voronin (AM/S).
A second glance at the bench allowed me to think back to Babel’s first season at Liverpool when he was a revelation coming off the bench and changing games. Dossena had his impact moments against Real Madrid and Man U last season with two well taken goals. Besides that we looked pretty short on the ground.

Looking at a potential starting lineup, when everyone is fit, of

Reina

Johnson Carrager Skrtel Aurelio

Mascherano

Aquilani

Kuyt Gerrard Yossi

Torres

that leaves us with a bench that looks something like:
Cavalieri
Agger
Insua
Lucas
Babel
Riera
Voronin/N’gog

After making that list I start to reconsider my optimism about our title chances this season. Is this the best we can put out? The answer is yes it is.

An objective analysis of this list reveals that there is actually significant ability, quality and potential on that bench. Ability would refer to Reira and Cavalieri, quality would refer to Agger and potential would refer to Insua and N’gog. I have intentionally left out the controversial Babel, Lucas and Voronin. I think we have debated that issue to death.

In comparison to the subs benches of our closest rivals it is easy to be critical.

Chelsea Man U Arsenal

Hilario Foster Fabianski
Alex Evans Djourou
Ivanovic O’Shea Gibbs
Ballack Anderson Nasri
Zhirkov Giggs Diaby
J. Cole Park Eboue/Wilshere
Kalou Owen Eduardo

Of our rivals it is a close call between Arsenal and Chelsea for the best bench. Chelsea can call on talented and experienced players. Arsenal has quality and pace throughout. A look at the Man U bench though doesn’t fill me with much fear. Man for man it would not rate any better than our bench. They have average players in O’Shea and Park. Anderson is much in the Lucas category of player who has to deliver now or it will be never. Then there is a dodgy keeper and a decent young centre back. On top of that they can call on Giggs and Owen. Both advanced in years but both have the ability to occasionally, or should I say rarely, produce some quality.

It is interesting to note that Chelsea and Arsenal have used two very different approaches to building their respective benches. Chelsea is able to attract and retain top quality players on their bench by paying huge transfer fees and massive salaries. They have a player in Ballack rumoured to be “earning” more than £130,000 per week and another in Zhirkov who cost in the region of £18 Million. Liverpool’s best player and captain actually earns his wage which is somewhere in the same region as Ballack’s and Rafa has been slammed throughout the media for buy a starting (and starring) right back for £17million. Arsenal has used a combination of buying exceptionally talented youngsters for big money and grooming them for their bench and starting line up. Arsene Wenger has been at Arsenal since 1996 and is only now bringing in players from the Arsenal youth structures which goes to show the time needed with this approach.

Both approaches have their merits. Chelsea can at anytime call up a player from the bench and know they are getting a proven performer. Arsenal can bring on any player from their bench confident that the player knows their system, plays to their style and is in sync with the team.

Fortunately the championship is not won by the bench. But our depth is a definite concern. Rafa’s youth recruitment drive has been on the go for a few seasons already. So far the only player to make the step up is Insua but I think we can be hopeful for the future with the likes of Nemeth, Pacheco, Plessis, Spearing and Kelly coming through. It is worth remembering how long it has taken for Arsenal to bring through young players. The beauty of the youth policy is that in a few more seasons the players who will come out of the academy and reserves will have been educated to play the football that Rafa wants. They will fit better into the system.

I’m not holding out for us to get to the point where we can pay for big talents to sit on our bench. We passed up the opportunity for Arab money a while ago. Much has been made about Liverpool’s need for a 20 goal a season striker to sit onthe bench. I simply do not believe we can afford to buy and pay a salary for such a player. Man U turned down the opportunity to buy Tevez for that very reason. In fact in the Premier League only Man City and Tottenham are able to name proven quality strikers on their benches. It’s unjustifiable unless you can count on a constant stream of new capital. We shall leave that to the Chelseas, Man Citys and Reals of this world.

So where does that leave Liverpool bid to win number 19 and end Man U’ dominance and charge towards our record number of championships?

For now we must make do with what we have. But will it be enough?