AnalysisThe Dirk Kuyt column: Merseyside derby memories, Thiago form and mailbag
In the second edition of his exclusive Liverpoolfc.com column, Dirk Kuyt looks ahead to Wednesday's Merseyside derby at Goodison Park and reflects on his best memory against Liverpool's local rivals.
I loved playing in the Merseyside derby. And as strange as it is to say, I also loved playing at Goodison Park.
Then again, that's probably only because we won a lot of games there and I scored a fair few.
My record at Goodison reads: four wins, two defeats and three goals scored. Not bad.
I loved the journey to Goodison. We always used to come together at Melwood and then board the team coach to Goodison. That journey, around 10 minutes or so, was just brilliant, seeing the people – red and blue – on the streets and the atmosphere building nicely.
I loved derby games in general. I was used to playing against Ajax for Feyenoord and I used to score a fair few goals in those ones, too. I'm glad I could continue with that knack when I moved to Liverpool.
But Everton v Liverpool were always special games, with red cards, tough tackles (yes, including my own against Phil Neville), drama and incredible atmospheres.
Of course, I think my best Merseyside derby was our 2-1, incident-filled win at Goodison in October 2007 when I scored two penalties, including the injury-time winner.
It was a tough period for me around that time. I wasn't playing as well as I normally was and my father had passed away a couple of months before.
Rafa started me and always changed his penalty takers before each game. He was like, 'The opponent doesn't need to know who's going to take the penalty.' I wasn't meant to be on duty that afternoon.
Andriy Voronin was the No.1 penalty taker for the game and I was second on the list. When we were awarded the first one Voronin came to me and said, 'I'm not feeling comfortable. You take it.' I was more than happy to do so. Give me the pressure – I like it.
Obviously I took the first penalty – an important equaliser after Sami Hyypia's own goal – but it was so intense when we were awarded another one in injury time. It's a real mind game when you're taking a second penalty in the same game.
Rafa and his team were always well prepared for games. We had this like iPad thing (they were just coming in) and he showed us the last five penalties against Tim Howard – the direction he dived and where he'd go with a right-footed penalty taker etc.
I had a clear corner in my mind. I scored the first one and then the second one comes around and it's like, 'What am I going to do – use the same corner, the other side or the middle?' I just had a very comfortable feeling about that same corner.
I always thought that if I hit it well enough there would be no chance the 'keeper would save it. He'd have to go very early to keep it out but normally Howard was not that type of goalkeeper.
I don't think I hit my second penalty perfectly and Howard went the right way and got something on it. But thankfully it was perfect enough to score. With the relief and adrenaline, I just remember sliding over towards our fans. A great memory.
That said, I was lucky to be on the pitch to even score that winner following my lunge on Neville.
I never had a red card in my career, so I could certainly control myself very well. But when you're involved in games like Liverpool v Everton or Liverpool v Manchester United, the tension is so high and you just want to give everything for the shirt and make sure you win.
In that particular incident near the away end, I just wanted to be aggressive. At one stage I jumped up in the air and made a tackle. Once I was in the air, I felt I was way too late to even have a chance to hit the ball.
If you see the video again in slow motion, I'm pulling my legs back just to try not to hit him because it really could've been a bad injury – but it's so hard when you're already in the air. I was so lucky to not touch him. I was just an inch away.
Rafa Benitez may have a derby-day surprise up his sleeve
It'll certainly be strange to see Rafa managing against Liverpool in a Merseyside derby. But that's just Rafa. He just wants to do his job and to be successful.
He was always very well prepared tactically for these games. He always had just a little surprise with his line-up. In the derby we've been talking about, I was surprised when he took off our captain, Steven Gerrard, after 72 minutes when it was poised at 1-1.
Rafa never made his team clear the day before a game. It was always one or two hours before. In the dressing room the day before, the players would always try to guess what the team would be. We'd never have it right because there was always one surprise.
Especially with the derby games, he had something special in the team, something special tactically.
I'm sure he'll come with a tactical surprise for Wednesday – that's Rafa. But Jürgen Klopp may also do the same because he's also a very good coach. I can't wait to watch it.
We're now seeing the real Thiago Alcantara
I consider Thiago to be one of the best midfielders in the world, and unfortunately I never got the chance to come up against him during my career. I think I just missed him.
However, I was so happy when he signed for Liverpool in September 2020.
The Premier League is a league of its own, though. It doesn't matter what player you are and what you've done before, you always need a little bit of time. The tempo and physicality of it is very tough and very high, so even the best players need to adapt.
What I saw in the beginning of Thiago's Liverpool career was that he wasn't totally used to pressing immediately when his team lost the ball, and that midfielders were so quick on him when he did have the ball.
But now see you're seeing him at home in the Premier League and this Liverpool team. His display against Southampton on Saturday was another example of that.
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Just watching his goal on the weekend and a few other moments, he's pressing really high when Liverpool lose the ball and understanding exactly what the team does. He's improved a lot in that and does these kind of things very well. He's really important on and off the ball at the moment.
His biggest quality is his creativity, but you didn't have to show that to anybody before he came to Liverpool. But as a player, when other things aren't clicking 100 per cent, because you need time to adapt and everything, you never really feel entirely comfortable.
But as you see now, he's adapting really well and you see the qualities he showed at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, as well as becoming an even more complete player.
@Proudy31589: As you played various positions in your time at LFC, where do you think you'd fit in this Jürgen Klopp system?
We talked about the way Jürgen's team is pressing and I really like it. I think I would be very good in that as well. I think I could play perfectly as a striker because Jürgen's striker is often dropping off as well. I don't think I have the pace for the positions of Mane and Salah because they're playing a little bit more inside. With the Dutch national team I played in a 5-3-2 system where the wing-backs were playing very high up the pitch and I enjoyed it. I think I would fit in that position, too, just to come up, press high and do things like that. Probably the best position is striker, and the other position is probably at full-back – it doesn't matter whether it's left or right.
@thegeorgetrad: Settle this: how do you correctly pronounce your name?
It's very difficult, not only for English people or Scousers. You say it like Kuw-t – it's very difficult. The Scousers call me Kite, in Spain they say Kwi-t. But for me it was never a big problem. I felt very well respected because fans always tried to say it correctly.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time,