Is Rafa Benitez Spoilt for Choice?

Chris GriggsCorrespondent INovember 18, 2008

Torres and Keane? Torres and Gerrard? All three? Just what is Liverpool's most effective front pairing?
Keane's career hasn't got off to the start he might have wanted, but prior to Torres picking up a hamstring injury, there were signs that their pairing was starting to click.

During Torres' absence Keane has played reasonably well, despite not scoring as frequently as could be expected. In fact, Liverpool as a team have been guilty of not taking chances that a club expected to challenge for the title should be putting away.

With Torres named on the bench for the start of the away match to Bolton, Keane was again asked to play up front as a lone striker. Despite creating several chances, Liverpool only managed to score the one goal in a half they completely dominated, with Keane having an early contender for miss of the season.

Liverpool went in at the break still leading, though Gary Cahill's injury time header was controversially ruled out.

The game was starting to resemble the Red's only loss at Tottenham, where a dominant performance would be overshadowed by a failure to capitalise on their chances. Cue the introduction of Fernando Torres, whose song had been sung intermittently throughout the first half by the travelling Kop.

Replacing Keane, Torres immediately struck up a good understanding with Gerrard, who eventually combined for Liverpool's second goal. In what was a productive partnership last year, the Torres/Gerrard understanding didn’t seem to have suffered in the Spaniard's absence.

What remains to be seen is whether Rafa elects to continue with Keane, or revert to the Torres/Gerrard combination. Away, both in the league and in Europe, Rafa's preferred formation seems to be a 4-2-3-1. In my opinion, this is tailor-made for Gerrard to play just off Torres.


          ----------------------- Reina ------------------------

          - Arbeloa ---- Agger -- Carragher ---- Aurelio-

         ----------- Mascherano ---- Alonso --------------

         --- Kuyt ------------ Gerrard ------------ Riera ---

         ----------------------- Torres ------------------------


With Riera and Kuyt playing on the flanks, providing width and dragging away defenders, this will give Gerrard and Torres space to combine. In the event of Torres being injured or needing rest, this is a role that Keane can play. It may not be his best, but it has enabled him to get the three goals against Atletico and West Brom.

At home, I hope to see Rafa play two up front. Against the so called lesser teams (e.g. Stoke), who come to Anfield and park the proverbial bus, playing two up front is going to provide more options. If Keane comes into the line-up, the question then is who does Rafa drop?

Initially, you would assume Gerrard would drop back into midfield, taking either Mascherano's or Alonso's place in the starting line up:


         ------------------------ Reina ------------------------

         -- Arbeloa ---- Agger -- Carragher ---- Aurelio-

         --------- Masch/Alonso ------- Gerrard -----------

         -- Kuyt ------------------------------------- Riera ---

         -------------- Torres ----- Keane -------------------


Another option would be to move Gerrard to the right side of midfield, taking Kuyt's place. But with the Dutchman now Liverpool's joint top scorer, how can you leave him out?


          ----------------------- Reina ------------------------

          - Arbeloa ---- Agger -- Carragher ---- Aurelio-

         ----------- Mascherano ---- Alonso --------------

         --- Gerrard -------------------------------- Riera ---

         ------------ Torres -------- Keane ------------------

With all players available, i think the above three teams are Liverpool's strongest, and we're likely to see all of them fairly regularly. I wont be surprised to see Keane start away either, with Torres on the bench to come on and kill off a game, if required, as at Bolton. 

This is where rotation is going to be beneficial. Rafa now has the choices available in order to give his first 11 time to rest, without unduly compromising the quality of the squad.

I haven’t mentioned Babel, Lucas, and Benayoun, amongst others, and whilst the performance in the Carling Cup was poor, there is no doubt the Liverpool squad is stronger than last years.