13 June 2008

The much-malinged Dirk Kuyt

Little has pleased me more than Kuyt’s performance this past week. One goal and two assists so far (in 134 minutes), and he’s been a standout for one of the top three teams (along with Spain and Portugal). It’s not as if Holland has done it against lightweights, beating both the World Cup finalists by three goals.

But most importantly to me, he’s been doing it in a position similar to the one he plays in at Liverpool.

de Jong - Engelaar
Kuyt - van der Vaart - Sneijder
van Nistelrooy

Alonso - Mascherano
Kuyt - Gerrard - Babel

Kuyt clearly improved as the season went on (with his low point coming during the poor winter, when he couldn’t buy a goal), growing into his role in the 4-2-3-1 on the right wing as well as could be expected. And he did it in the big games, scoring against Inter Milan, Arsenal and Chelsea. That he continues to do the same for Holland can only be a good thing for Liverpool.

The fact that Holland scored three, winning 4-1, after Kuyt went off isn’t a knock on the player. There’s a reason van Basten, who’s proving himself an excellent (and brave) manager, left both Robben and van Persie on the bench: not only were both just returning from injury, but their speed and ball control were the difference against a tiring France that had to chase the game. And they were chasing the game because of Kuyt's early goal, which was an excellent header, out-fighting Malouda for the corner.

If anything, today’s game was an argument for having players of both stripes in the squad, as Kuyt plays a vital role for both Liverpool and Holland. With the number of attacking players in the Dutch team, Kuyt’s industry and workrate are needed for balance, especially if the fullback he’s partnered with bombs forward. And if you look at the attack Liverpool’s building (Torres, Babel, Gerrard, and possibly an addition or two this summer, plus purchases at fullback which seem to show that’s where Benitez wants to get width from), he has a similar role to fill.

I’m not saying he’s the end all, be all on the right wing, and it’s not a surprise that we’ve seen Liverpool linked with attackers like Bentley, Downing, Riera, Milner (sigh), and Villa (I wish). But if he continues to play like this, he’ll continue to get games for Liverpool.

A quote from Torres last week is insight into what his teammates think of his role:

"This Liverpool side also works its socks off. Dirk Kuyt, for example, is spectacular in how cleverly and how hard he works to make sure I get top-quality possession near goal."

Torres obviously isn’t going to bash his teammate, but the interview wasn’t about Kuyt, and it’s noticeable that’s who he singled out. Kuyt’s two assists and workrate (especially in defense) in the first match against Italy are those parts of his game at their best.

One of the complaints about Kuyt this season has been his first touch, which hasn’t really been an issue in the last two games and contrary to the fact that he’s often the one receiving a long goal kick for the Dutch. His crossing also seems to be better, although the Dutch fluidity in passing and movement is something Benitez would love to bring to his team. Kuyt does need a better goal return, even more so if he’s playing as a striker, but when he’s out on the right it’s far less of an issue, especially if he continues to pop up with a goal when it matters.

During the course of today’s match, Adrian Healey asked Andy Gray whether or not Kuyt’s unfairly criticized in the Premiership, which was a laugh given Gray’s habitually one of his critics. But today Gray sang a different tune, comparing Kuyt to Ray Kennedy, who was a center forward for Arsenal before becoming one of the best left-wingers Liverpool’s ever had. That’s an enormous stretch -- surprising that Gray’s complimenting Kuyt but unsurprising in his hyperbole -- but if that comes anywhere close to fruition, we’ll won't hear the complaints about Kuyt anymore.


Mike Georger said...

i was one of dirks biggest critics mid season but he has turned it around. honestly 18 months isnt too long for someone to find their footing, maybe hes finally got it

while it was earlier in the season, the first match against porto when we went a man down, he single handedly kept us from losing by shutting down quaresma. his defense is very very good. while i wouldnt mind an out and out winger to pair with him for that spot, he is looking more sure to be around for a while

id take milner over downing any day of the week though.

nate said...

Downing would probably cost double what Milner would, which has to come into play, but just player v player, Downing takes it every time for me and twice on Sundays.

Better crosser, with more goals and assists, while Milner is slower and his passing is at best hit and miss. The only thing Milner has going for him is he can play on either flank.

Mind you, I think there's better targets than either of them, but I'd certainly rather Downing if it had to be either/or.

Honestly, I'd rather keep Pennant than Milner. Downing's an upgrade on Pennant, but probably not value for money.