When Manchester United have an important game to play against one of the Premier League's elite teams, the first name on the teamsheet is one that most people would not expect. It's not Ronaldo or Rooney, or Dimitar Berbatov for that "spark of inspiration (© the English media)" he can bring. It isn't even Rio Ferdinand or his faithful old partner Mr Vidic. It is, in fact, Park Ji-Sung.
The attributes Park brings to the team are obvious to those with a footballing brain, yet no so blinding to the average Joe who watches the odd match down the pub with his mates on a Saturday evening. He's not the most creative player around, he doesn't have a fantastic goalscoring record - although he has notched a fair amount of important goals over the last few years - and the majority of the football-viewing community will more often than not put his inclusion in the side down to injuries or rotation to other players. However, if that were the case, then the fact he starts almost all the 'big' games must be some kind of epic coincidence?
He's in the team because he's extremely well disciplined, has a fantastic engine, and will harry, press, and close down the opposition defenders for 90 minutes without once asking for credit or a more free role within the team. He's actually very good technically, but he doesn't have that fear factor - defenders would be relieved to see him starting the game when the other options are Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. He's in the team to do a particular job - help United defend as far up the pitch as possible and restrict the opposition defenders to play percentage balls in behind the full-backs - would you fancy many players to come out on top in a foot race against Patrice Evra or Rafael Da Silva? Even if the opposition do win the ball out in crossable positions, their team will struggle to win the aerial battle in the goal area against Van Der Sar, Ferdinand, and Vidic. Park's inclusion in the team narrow's the oppisitions options when attacking a lot more than you'd think, and that's before considering his willingness to track back and cover, and the speed at which he can do it.
He will create chances, he will score goals... but not as much as some of his more reputable team-mates, which is why he doesn't play when he's not needed - against the smaller teams who simply try to shut up shop when they play against Manchester United. Why bother forcing the opposition defence to play long balls and battle for the small percentages, when they're going to do it anyway? There is no need for such a player playing in such a manner, in such a game.
Which brings us neatly on rather neatly to Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt is slightly more erratic than Park technically - he can be brilliant one week (as he has been for the majority of this season), then very sloppy the next. His best is better than Park's, as is his goalscoring ability, but Park edges it for consistency. Kuyt will never be considered prolific whilst playing for Liverpool, although every time the big, big games come around, a double on Kuyt scoring and Liverpool winning is always a decent bet to make. He's got barrelloads of bottle, and steps up when it counts.
Many people labour the opinion that he is only in the team because of his work-rate and energy - much the same reason Park plays the big games for our neighbours down the East Lancs Road - and whilst there's no denying that he's actually a very good player most of the time, I'm tempted to agree.
We don't need players like Kuyt against Bolton, Stoke, West Brom and Blackburn... in fact I'm not even sure we'd need him against Newcastle or Manchester City - Kuyt's place in the squad should be to perform in the big, big games and let a more technically-gifted, creative, and overall more productive attacker take his place for the rest of the games. A bit like Park Ji-Sung, then.
The reasons I'm labouring the comparison with a bit-part player from Manchester United are self-explanatory once the rose-tinted glasses are removed - we are still quite far from their level, and a lot of that is down to our overall defensive approach to attacking. When teams come to defend against us, we need craft, vision, and something unpredictable - we only have two players who can genuinely offer this, and Kuyt isn't one of them. As it stands, Dirk Kuyt is guaranteed a place in the team 95% of the time, provided he is fit. And that is a major problem.
Now don't get me wrong, I like Kuyt as a player and this is in no way a slight against him, but for 8 out of 10 Premier League games we can do without him - or rather we could, should we have a suitable replacement.
We still need a genuine right winger. Not a converted forward-cum-workhorse. Look again at the Manchester United approach to Premier League football - their manager is from the 'we'll score more than you' school of management, and it shows in both their league position and goal difference columns.
It is time for us to follow their lead. It has been said by many in the past, and it rings very, very true at the time of writing - we are far too cautious and defensive when playing in the Premier League games, and Kuyt's change to a winger, and continual inclusion in the side just emphasise the fact.
Much has been said over the past few months about our lack of money, Rafael Benítez' contract negotiations, the battle for ownership, and every other thing you could possibly think of that should have been kept within the boardroom - but the fact of the matter is that Rafael Benítez is battling to keep his job, and a lot of the players are battling to stay at Liverpool Football Club.
Another fact is that we don't have any money, whichever way you look at it, so from now until the end of the season - in the Premier League at least - Mr Benítez should realistically only have one real option - adopt a much more attacking, gung-ho approach to most games, which in my view will mean either using Dirk Kuyt much further up the pitch, or by giving him the freedom just to attack - he's naturally a centre forward, so let's see what he can really do. In the summer we can (hopefully) think about bringing in some genuine attacking quality out on the right wing... but until then Dirk Kuyt is still out best option out there, but if he is to play there regularly then the whole team must be given the license to attack for 90 minutes at a time.