In my last post, I put forward my opinion that Mascherano and Sissoko should never play together but after thinking about things for a little longer and taking a few minutes to watch a bit of the match again, I may have to eat my words.
First off, here's what Mascherano and Sissoko both give you - steel in the midfield; tackling, breaking up the opposition's game and, more importantly from Rafa's point of view, swift, fairly accurate lateral passing. What they lack in vision and creativity, they make up for in their ability to change the point of attack. Say our left back has the ball but can't see a decisive pass on, he knows that by giving it to Mascherano or Sissoko, chances are the ball will be quickly shipped to the right winger - pulling the opposition from the left to the right. The right winger can't see anything on so he passes inside to one of the two defensive midfielders who ship across to the other wing - where the left winger/full-back should, hopefully, have more space.
This is obviously greatly simplified but you get the idea. Shifting the ball laterally keeps the opposition moving, never giving them a chance to get settled defending deep. In an ideal world, they're pulled from right to left to right again creating space for the wingers to do their jobs, get to the byline and whip in some dangerous crosses. Or, in Riise's case, hit it out for a goal-kick.
Now, clearly, this puts great emphasis on the wingers to do their jobs - stay wide, be confident on the ball and get it in the box.
Here's where it went wrong on Saturday. Babel never took the ball and looked to take it forward. He always seemed to receive the ball facing towards our goal and never wanted to take responsibility and try to put a move on Ooijer. Credit to the Dutchman (Ooijer, not Babel) on this account - he always made sure Babel was closely marked but someone with the raw skills Babel has owes it to himself to at least try something.
On the other wing, Yossi Benayoun was even worse. Instead of creating space, either for himself or the other winger, by staying wide, he kept cutting in and never went down the line or let Finnan go down the line on the overlap. No, instead of playing a tactically disciplined game and sticking to the plan presumably laid out for him, he played his usual game where he roamed, pretty much, wherever he pleased.
You could see that once Kewell came on to the left wing the space opened up all over the pitch and Blackburn seemed far more stretched - both width wise and, because the players were getting tired, lengthwise. In NFL parlance, not just North-South but also East-West.
Rafa's finding it hard to get his players do exactly what he wants them to do - perhaps he's missing Paco's gentle touch a little more than he expected.