Norway defender John Arne Riise has come in to his own under a new coach at Liverpool FC.
By Simon Hart
For a player whose scoring prowess inspired a song in his honour at Anfield, it was a surprise to note that John Arne Riise had gone almost two years without a goal until recently.
Liverpool FC's Norwegian international ended the wait with a spectacular strike against Charlton Athletic FC on 23 October. Speaking to uefa.com at the Merseysiders' Melwood training ground last week, he said it had been "83 games if you take the national team as well", adding: "It's nice to score again and hopefully I can just keep going."
Return to form
Keep going he did with another fine effort in his next appearance, Saturday's 2-2 draw at Blackburn Rovers FC, which underlined Riise's return to the form that brought eight goals in his debut season at Liverpool in 2001/02. Riise is enjoying his football and for this he credits Rafael Benítez, the club's new Spanish manager whose methods "ensure every player knows his position and what to do".
Riise, who has played on the left side of both defence and midfield this season, said: "Since Rafa came in he has taught me a lot of tactical stuff, especially defensively, and I feel more comfortable playing left-back.
I know my position better than I have done in the past. That's the reason I am playing so consistently." Riise is not the only one. He feels the whole team have benefited from the arrival of Benítez, who replaced Gérard Houllier in June. "Under Gérard Houllier we did well in my first season when we came second and got to the quarter-finals of the [UEFA] Champions League but there came a point when the club needed a change," he said.
The new broom has brought a fresh approach. Riise said: "He's brought in a lot of tactical stuff - when we should keep the ball, when we should go forward. Instead of taking a chance on a pass, just keep the ball and let the opposition run more. That's the main thing, to keep possession and let the opposition do more work."
To this end, it helps having passers of the calibre of Steven Gerrard, presently sidelined, and his new midfield partner, Xabi Alonso. "Xabi Alonso along with Steven Gerrard may be the best passer in Europe," said Riise. "He sees a pass nobody else sees."
If a return to old values has pleased the aesthetes among the Anfield crowd, there is still no substitute for winning matches and Liverpool's start has been steady rather than spectacular. In the Premiership, they sit sixth, nine points behind leaders Arsenal FC "but with a game in hand" - while ahead of Wednesday's visit to RC Deportivo La Coruña, their three Champions League matches have yielded four points. There were certainly positives to be taken from the goalless draw with Deportivo a fortnight ago. "We hammered them to be honest," Riise said. "We didn't score but we created a lot of chances and played some great football.
"The defeat against Olympiacos [CFP] wasn't good enough but apart from that we've played well. We know it's going to be tough - it's a very tough group - so we've got to just keep working hard. Every one can beat each other - it's going to be tight all the way but hopefully we can get enough points to qualify."
John Arne Riise is one of over 50 players to introduce the new adidas F50+ boot in this week's UEFA Champions League Matchday 4 and UEFA Cup Matchday 2 matches