New Liverpool chief Rafael Benitez is facing a selection poser for their Champions League return of how to get £11m (€16.1m) Spanish star Xabi Alonso into the side to face last season’s runners-up Monaco at Anfield this week.
Benitez fielded a midfield five on Saturday, which seems to be his favoured tactic, which included outstanding displays from Luis Garcia and Steven Gerrard.
Dietmar Hamann, Steve Finnan – in an unfamiliar right-sided role – and Harry Kewell also contributed to the 3-0 success over West Brom.
And Alonso started the game on the bench before replacing goalscorer Garcia with 25 minutes left.
If Benitez plays an extra striker in Milan Baros against the French side, it reduces his options of fitting the Spaniard into his starting line up on Wednesday.
The former Valencia chief explained Alonso’s omission against West Brom, having been fielded in a central role in the defeat at Bolton a fortnight previously.
Benitez said: “I need a balance in midfield. With Gerrard and Hamann we had control of midfield.
“For this game we did not need three central midfielders, which is why Alonso started on the bench.”
Benitez’s selection thoughts have been complicated by the excellent display of Finnan in a wide right role he occupies for the Republic of Ireland on occasions.
Finnan scored his first goal for the club and provided solid defensive support for Josemi down the right flank.
Benitez said: “The team are working like a team.
“In the end if you do that you win more games because you help each other and if you are a big club with that attitude you win far more.
“I was happy because I could see the attitude of the players and if you have a good mentality then you win. You then improve the level of performance and win more.
“The team played more as a team, they were good in possession, fast around the pitch and it was probably our best because of the three goals and the overall performance of the team in defence and attack.
“But I still look to see better games.”
Benitez admitted before Saturday’s game that he would not be afraid to leave out star names in search of a better team balance.
There were concerns that his tactical plan did not work properly at Bolton, where both Alonso and Garcia played.
He said: “My idea was to use the best players, but sometimes the best players do not always make the best team.
“You need to find a balance, it depends sometimes on your opponents but you always need to adapt.”
That balance was helped by the inclusion of Finnan and with Hamann and Gerrard playing as a central partnership.
Finnan could well have been sold before the transfer window, but has now staked his claim for a place in Benitez’s thoughts.
The former Fulham player said: “People have different opinions on whether I should be playing or not. That is up to them.
“I am not worried too much about speculation. There has been a lot of talk about a number of players leaving, but I am now glad the window is closed because no-one will leave until January.
“I’ve never felt worried about it, and I didn’t speak to other clubs.
“But if Liverpool had agreed to sell me there would be nothing I could do about it – if you are told to go, you go.”
Now Finnan has the chance of a few more months to impress Benitez before the next round of transfer activity.
Whether Benitez retains the side that beat West Brom is debatable, but what is clear is that Monaco will present a very different test to his new regime, even if they have lost half the side which got to last season’s Champions League final.
Fernando Morientes and Dado Prso are two of the big guns who have gone, to Real Madrid and Rangers respectively.
But Didier Deschamps’ French side will provide a very public and tough examination for Benitez, who understands the problem.
He continued: “This is another examination of me and how the players are reacting to the new life here.
“Playing Monaco will be a test for us, but I am looking for my team to show strength – mentally and physically. I am still building.”
Deschamps’ triumphant squad of last season has also been shorn of Edouard Cisse and Jerome Rothen – who have joined Paris St Germain – Ludovic Giuly (Barcelona), Hugo Ibarra (Porto) and Tony Sylva (Lille).
The irony is that the team from the tax haven of Monte Carlo and surrounded by such amazing wealth, always seem to be pleading poverty.
The players who have been brought do not appear to be an improvement on last season’s troops – and Deschamps could not afford to take Nicolas Anelka, missing out on with a proposed loan deal for the Manchester City man.
Monaco are currently fifth in the French League and Benitez observed: “Obviously I know them and watched them in the Champions League Final and we have followed their progress.
“They have extremely good players and well organised.”
But the Spaniard is aware Liverpool fans expect a good showing in the Champions League this season, and he added: “I knew I was coming to a really big club, I know the history.”