On Saturday, 20 mins into Liverpool’s mauling of a truly shocking Derby County side, Rafa Benitez made a decision that could save Steve McLaren’s job for a few more months. Rafa swapped the ever-improving Jermaine Pennant from the right wing to the left wing where Ryan Babel had been.
It was a masterstroke. Pennant terrorised Derby, skinning his man on the outside at will or cutting inside whenever the mood struck him. Sure, it was only Derby but it was an utterly dominant performance from a man who, for the first time, is looking like reaching the potential he showed as an Arsenal youngster.
His name has been mentioned before as a possible England squad member but, with England desperate for pace, creativity and direction on the left side of mid-field, the criminal who once played with an ankle tag, could be the answer to a nation’s prayers.
Ever since Sven-Goran Eriksson took charge, and probably a little before, England has had a large hole on the left side of midfield. Various players have come and gone. Some were square-pegs awkwardly thrust into round holes (in Frank Lampard’s case, it was a fat peg stuck in an embarrassingly svelte hole); some were eager to play anywhere as long as they played (I’m looking at you Danny Murphy and Joe Cole); some, like Steven Gerrard, were so versatile managers knew they would be an embarrassment and some were simply the manager’s class favourites. Stuart Downing, put your hand down now.
But Pennant looked a class above Derby and, with all due respect to Israel, could be exactly what an unimaginative England needs against tough, uncompromising opposition who have nothing to lose against a prized scalp.
Fortunately for Liverpool, McLaren is just too incompetent to realise it and that may mean one of Liverpool’s key players will be rested and fresh when it comes to the business end of the season.
Liverpool Football Club has always meant more to her fans than the England team but for once, England could be doing us a favour.