Ryan Babel is a player that divides opinion with the media and fans. Some see him as outrageously talented with great potential, but has only shown glimpses of that talent. Others see him as highly inconsistent, an infuriating player with a bad attitude. The fact of the matter is that Babel is now 23 years old and has been at Liverpool for nearly three years. He needs to start fulfilling his potential soon, or else he could be on his way out from Liverpool in the summer.
Signed from Ajax for £11.5 million in 2007, the Dutch international has often been a victim of Rafael Benitez’s rotation policy. This season, Babel has played in 18 Premiership games, scoring 3 goals and providing one assist. But many of those appearances of seen Babel come off the bench for Liverpool – he has only started 5 games this season. Opta Joe had an interesting stat on Babel last week – he has only played 524 minutes this season compared to 833 minutes last season. This shows that Benitez is not a fan of the Dutchman and cannot rely on Babel to perform well week-in, week-out.
Lightning quick, skilful and with the ability to run at players and beat them, as well as deliver excellent crosses into the box, Babel can be devastating on his day and has the ability to tear the opposition apart, just like he has done numerous times for Liverpool in the past. But Babel is also extremely inconsistent, is known for trying to be spectacular when it is easier to make a simple pass and is clearly a confidence player, which isn’t helped by Benitez constantly rotating him in and out of the starting XI.
Babel clearly needs an extended run of games for Liverpool to develop his confidence and start to deliver for Liverpool and to his credit, he has started upping his game for Liverpool recently. In the last ten games, going all the way back to the Merseyside derby in February, Babel has been involved in all ten, starting five of the games and coming off the bench for the remaining five. In that period Babel has scored two goals (against Portsmouth and Unirea Urziceni) and has obviously benefitted from starting 3 games straight recently, against Lille twice and Portsmouth.
So what are the reasons for Babel’s improvement recently? Firstly, he has sorted his attitude problems out, after criticising Rafa Benitez on Twitter for leaving him out of the Stoke game. Babel tweeted back in January:
“Hey people, I got some disappointing news. I am not travelling to Stoke. The Boss left me out the squad. No explanation.”
Babel’s public outburst infuriated Benitez and the Dutchman looked set to leave Anfield. But Babel has improved drastically since then on the pitch. Previously, Babel was perceived as lazy, too big for his boots, a whinger and a sulk. But since his outburst, he has been more willing to track back and work hard for the team, which has resulted in more starts for Liverpool. It’s also not just a coincidence that Babel wants to make the Dutch World Cup squad this summer.
There is also a lot of debate surrounding where Babel’s best position is. The Dutchman is often played on the left wing by Benitez, where he can use his pace and trickery to torment the opposition’s full back. Maybe Babel would be better served as a centre forward alongside Fernando Torres and definitely should have played up front when Torres was injured this season, and seems a better candidate than David N’Gog. On the other hand, Babel’s position for Liverpool is similar to the position he played for Ajax and Holland, as when Liverpool attack he plays on the left side of a 4-3-3 with Torres and Kuyt, so it cannot be that different to what he has been used to throughout his career.
I believe the Babel situation at Liverpool depends on who the manager is at Anfield next season. If Benitez is still there, then I expect Babel to be sent packing, as Rafa is clearly not a fan. But where would be a suitable destination for the Dutchman? Babel was linked with a £8 million move to Birmingham back in January and a club like that would be a perfect fit for him. At somewhere like St Andrews, Babel could play every week and be the man for that team. But if another manager takes over at Liverpool, Babel could start finally fulfilling his enormous potential, as he has been doing in recent weeks for the club. What do you think of Babel’s recent performances? Will he be sent packing in the summer?
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