It’s a shame that Peter Crouch’s departure seems imminent, but it’s not all that surprising. He hasn’t been happy on the bench, and that’s where he’s been relegated to since the arrival of Fernando Torres.
Admittedly, I was a bit surprised we didn’t get many chances to see a Crouch-Torres combination. The two started seven games together (5 wins, 2 losses) and weren’t a standard 4-4-2 pairing in two of those.
The duo was effective in wins over Bolton and Sunderland, but still had infuriating moments when they got in each other’s way even in the best of games, which wasn’t completely unexpected given both are used to playing in similar spaces despite having different styles.
Benitez seemed hesitant to pair the two from the beginning of the season, probably for the reason in the paragraph above, but Liverpool finding success with the 4-2-3-1 formation starting in February didn’t help either.
In the two games where Torres and Crouch played but weren’t a pairing up top, Liverpool lost to Reading 1-3 away and beat Arsenal 4-2 in the Champions League. The Reading match, where Crouch, Torres and Voronin were basically a three-man front line, was Liverpool’s first loss of the season and a deserved one, despite my belief that Torres should have earned two penalties.
I went more in-depth on Crouch and the 4-2-3-1 after the second leg of the CL quarters against Arsenal, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. In this match, Crouch started in Gerrard’s role with Stevie pushed out to the left. Even though Liverpool won, scoring four in the process, it wasn’t the most convincing of displays by the front four, and two of those goals – including the winner – came after Crouch was substituted for Babel.
The best thing about the 4-2-3-1 has been Gerrard and Torres’ partnership, and Crouch’s inclusion upset that balance. As I said in April, if it comes down to accommodating Gerrard, Torres or Crouch, I’m siding against Crouch.
If Benitez truly wants to stick with the 4-2-3-1, Crouch is always going to be Torres’ understudy if he stays at Liverpool. I think the Gangly Handful can be effective in this formation – his hat trick against Arsenal in March 2007 was proof of that – but he’s never going to get 33 goals in a season.
I wish this situation wasn’t the case, and that Crouch was willing to back Torres up, but he obviously isn’t happy in that role and wants to go elsewhere. I can’t begrudge him that.
Crouch has a year left on his contract, he hasn’t accepted the club’s offer of an extension, and he could leave for free in a year. The club certainly still remembers McManaman’s departure to Real Madrid in 1999. £11m, the rumored fee, is an excellent deal even if it’s £8m upfront and the rest in add-ons, especially when compared to £8m plus Nuñez for Michael Owen. And everyone knows Liverpool could use the money that would be generated by Crouch’s sale.
It goes without saying that Crouch will need to be replaced. I’m happy to see Liverpool announce Nikola Saric’s signing, as I’m always happy when Benitez is out buying “starlets,” but Saric’s not Crouch’s replacement.
I still don’t know if Nemeth’s ready for the step-up, or if Benitez is even ready to try him out. It seemed telling that Nemeth didn’t get any time with the first team this season when Plessis, Insua and El Zhar started games, and San Jose and Putterill at least made the bench. Obviously, after the season Nemeth had at reserve level, I think he has a future at Liverpool, but I don’t know how much experience he’ll get next season.
Which means that Torres, Kuyt, Voronin and possibly Babel are the only recognized first-team strikers. It was crucial that Torres stayed fit last season; if that's Liverpool’s strike-force in August, it’ll be even more so this time around.