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Clock is ticking for Benitez

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Phil McNulty | 23:31 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Tom Hicks Jr offended Liverpool's fans with an obscene e-mail - but the public insult delivered by manager Rafael Benitez's team as they deservedly departed the FA Cup against Reading may have deeper and more significant consequences at Anfield.

If Liverpool have become more adept at anything in this desperate season, it is in their uncanny ability to discover new depths to plumb. And the manner of their exit against Reading, whose measure of success this season will be Championship survival, represented a new low.

Liverpool are out of the Champions League, off the pace in the Premier League, out of the Carling Cup and now deprived of their last hope of domestic honours. Benitez still has his "guarantee" of a top four finish to fall back on - but he must now hope he is still around to fulfil his promise.

He has received emphatic backing from Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow and there is not a single reason to doubt those words, but if there is not grave concern inside Anfield at the dramatic decline under Benitez this season, then there should be.

Is time running out for Rafa Benitez?The regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett has often been used a convenient shield to hide the shortcomings of Benitez's reign, and the depature of Hicks the younger after his foul-mouthed missive should have been the only negative news around Anfield this week.

Sadly for Benitez, Liverpool contrived to dig an even deeper hole than Hicks Jr at icy Anfield and there was no hiding place for the manager this time.

Benitez has undoubtedly been the victim of football's fine margins this season. The concession of late goals has cursed Liverpool, especially in the Champions League against Lyon.

And so it proved again at Anfield as Yossi Benayoun's lunge at Shane Long deep into stoppage time conceded a penalty and provided the catalyst for an extra-time loss that leaves Benitez battling to prove he is worthy of staying at Liverpool for the long haul.

Liverpool's supporters have shown remarkable patience with Benitez - perhaps too much - but even that is tested to breaking point when a side that started the season with aspirations of winning the Premier League (yes, I know I tipped them) is outplayed and outmanouevred by opponents at the wrong end of the Championship.

Benitez hinted at some unseen forces, presumably the display of referee Phil Dowd, in his post-match inquest when he claimed he saw "lots of things he didn't like."

There was certainly plenty to dislike about Liverpool's performance and Benitez deludes only himself if he feels bad luck alone was at the heart of this devastating defeat - the Anfield malaise owes little to ill-fortune.

Liverpool may have lost Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard prematurely to injury, but they were average long before they went and while Reading left it late to equalise, no-one can begrudge them their win.

The real story, unfortunately for Reading, is Liverpool's exit from another competition and the increasingly fragile position of a manager who now appears to be struggling for new ways to inspire his players.

I have witnessed Liverpool regularly in this campaign, and they are unrecognisable from the side that handed out thrashings on a regular basis at the back end of last season - with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa on the receiving end.

The theory this has been solely caused by the departure of Xabi Alonso is one I refuse to buy into. The fault lines run deeper than that. The departure of a single player should not have such debilitating consequences, and certainly not in Alonso's case.

Liverpool have not looked right from day one and their Premier League defeat at Spurs - and the huge worry for Benitez is that he looks, on present evidence, powerless to stop the slide.

Stripped of Torres and Gerrard, Liverpool had little or nothing to hurt Reading. Alberto Aquilani, finally getting regular action since his £20m summer signing, flattered to deceive while the dreadful performance of Emiliano Insua at left-back will have reduced Anfield defenders of old to tears.

Mediocrity was strewn over all parts of Anfield and it was only Reading's own wastefulness in front of goal that threatened their safe passage into the FA Cup fourth round at the expense of their alleged superiors from the Premier League.

And this is the problem for Benitez. Take away Torres and Gerrard and sadly he appears to be left with a team, and a tenure, on the wane. I was as fooled as anyone by Liverpool's stunning form of the last three months of last season - it seems a lifetime away now.

Liverpool are notoriously reluctant to consider regime change, and Benitez has the cushion of a lucrative five-year contract signed last March, plus the public support of his paymasters and the absence of any obvious and immediate alternative.

Results dictate all, however, and the blunt truth is that if Liverpool continue to disappear down the black hole that has consumed them this season, the club's board may face the difficult task of deciding whether it is more expensive in a wider context to keep Benitez than it would be to dispense with his services.

It is a nonsense to suggest he is not under pressure and another defeat against lower league opponents in the FA Cup only turns it up another notch. Benitez still has the Europa League, but this tournament barely registered on Liverpool's radar when they had the Champions League to play for and he might face a tough task talking it up now.

And there are ominous visible signs of a managerial reign that has peaked, that has reached stagnation point. Liverpool's season is acquiring the stale feeling of Gerard Houllier's final days at Anfield, when there was the unmistakeable scent of permanent decline in the air.

Liverpool look lacklustre, almost bored at times. The drive, the urgency, the inspiration has disappeared and too many players are simply not good enough to change the mood. Even Gerrard, the great talisman, carries the appearance of man being dragged down by the lack of quality around him.

Benitez talks constantly of hard work and seeking improvements, but all his endeavours seem to be falling on deaf ears as Liverpool lurch from one crisis to another.

Anfield's ire has usually been reserved for their unpopular American owners, but eventually the finger of responsibility must point in the direction of Benitez. He has had money to spend, not as much as he would like of course, but the level of his current squad suggests much of it has been spent unwisely.

Hicks and Gillett can be blamed for some of what is wrong at Liverpool, but not all of it and after the Reading defeat the focus must switch to the management.

Benitez must demonstrate he can freshen up a Liverpool side that looks jaded and devoid of all confidence or face the consequences. He has enjoyed crucial wins recently, most notably at Aston Villa, but talk of corners turned and new beginnings to the season struck a hollow chord some time ago. False dawns are now an Anfield speciality.

He faces crucial weeks and months to show he can somehow fashion a future where Liverpool can not only mount a meaningful challenge to Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, but also Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham.

Benitez is the great brinksman, almost revelling in the aggravation of crisis management before pulling out the big result when he needs it most. He is now battling to save himself like never before.

You can follow me throughout this season at twitter.com/philmcnulty and join me on Facebook.


Comments

Page 1 of 5

  • Comment number 1.

    I can't imagine he will be lasting long in a job, the only competition left is the Europa league and if Liverpool are to salvage a decent premier league position the extra games will not be helpful (injuries, fitness etc.). Not to mention their chances of winning the Europa league are debatable. If Liverpool got shot of him now a new manager could come in and begin to set up a team - sell some of the fringe players and try and compete for a Champions League spot because without the revenue and reputation of the Champion's League Liverpool will lose a lot of money and I imagine Torres will look at leaving (especially if/when Benitez goes).

  • Comment number 2.

    This is now perhaps the most open and interesting FA cup for years. With the Sad Demise of Utd and subsequent ameliorating demise of Liverpool (for me personally) perhaps now there is another chance of a Final that does not involve one of the CALM confederation (Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man u).

  • Comment number 3.

    I think Benitez should go. He has done some extremely good things for Liverpool, namely winning the CL in 2005, and signing Fernando Torres, but i think he has now done all he can. Granted, he has been unlucky this season with injuries and late goals as you mention, but so have Man Utd and look where they are in the league- still with a great chance of winning the league, even though they lost arguably their two best players over summer- Liverpool already struggling for a top 4 finish.... Liverpool need more quality in their squad, and i don't think Benitez is the most astute manager in the transfer market, another reason i feel he should go. He has also been unlucky because the board have mad things way way way more stressful and difficult for him than they need have been. All in all, I hope if he goes, he is not hated on Merseyside, but I hope that all Liverpool fans appreciate the good he has done for them so far.

    On a different note, come on Forest!!!! Looks like we may be joining you boys next year!!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    As a United fan, it's easy to gloat at Liverpool, however their dismal season only highlights our own shortcomings....how on earth did we manage to lose so tamely to that lot?!

  • Comment number 5.

    i would have to agree on this blog phil; after watching liverpool struggle for numerous times this season i too can only be amazed at the poor form...
    i think every single player in the liverpool squad is badly out of form this season (except pepe reina perhaps), and obviously the run of poor form is affecting their confidence
    i agree that the poor form this season is not due to bad luck and that one might have no other option than to point to benitez for this failing, but you have to say that they haven't been served by luck this season... sometimes it's small things that can make a big difference, a ball just going in (or not going in) , dragging out a result can work wonders for the confidence, and they just haven't been able to do this, mainly due to their own failing, but also slightly because of a lack of luck
    but then again, the team that plays well and goes all out for the win is always the more likely to get that stroke of luck...
    i also agree with you Phil that they are at a breaking point: the question at hand is can benitez find a way to inspire his players and can he turn it around... i'm starting to doubt
    i feel for him, because he is a talented manager, and with the heart in the right place (he's also gracious in defeat, which won't be easy when you keep getting slapped in the face) but there is a point of no return where a manager can no longer inspire his players and that management needs to take action
    i still hope they can turn it around, and i still believe liverpool can have a good second half of the season, but they are going to have to make it happen real soon, and i doubt if benitez will be around to witness it

  • Comment number 6.

    Benitez has never had a plan B for any game, don't quote the Champs League final as that is now in the dim and distant past. Too much average all over the pitch with Lucas, Insua, (scarily enough this season) Carragher, Kuyt who has never been better than poor (he has no skill, pace, ability to beat people and when was the last time he scored when he didn't scuff it), Babel, Ngog etc... Gerrard looks so frustrated with the average aroud him and bascially just gives the ball to Torres.
    Also we've started doing the old England thing of just hoofing it and hoping from defence.
    Agree with Phil and I said it a few weeks ago, just like Houllier, tooks us to 2nd and then couldn't take the next step.
    Also have been saying it for a while, it's time for Benitez to go.

  • Comment number 7.

    Something funny happening in the North West.

    I feel that Rafa, although he has over his time at Anfield done a good job, (great in some respects, but too many poor signings) is on the wane. In the past it might have been acceptable for him to take Liverpool down to mid table and back again, but the pressure of success, which has been significantly aggravated by the American ownership, means he cannot be given the luxury of time.

    I must say that I fear something similar is not too far ahead for United. The finances there seem, if anything, to be worse. They have had amazing success over the past 3 years, and sold a player for an unbelievable profit, but are still struggling with the burdens of their American owners financial arrangements. At one point the idea of cashing in Rooney would have seemed laughable, but I'm not laughing.

    The fact is both these overseas owners are in this to make money and that is driving everything. The GFC has made this much plainer.

  • Comment number 8.

    " The theory this has been solely caused by the departure of Xabi Alonso is one I refuse to buy into. The fault lines run deeper than that. The departure of a single player should not have such debilitating consequences, and certainly not in Alonso's case"

    I agree, but yet, at the end of the season people will still be banging on about how Man United miss Ronaldo.
    I don't hear any calls for Shane Long to be snapped up either which is strange given he is a more complete player than Beckford.
    Liverpools problems started last season when they had all those draws, but the 'thrasings they handed out' at the end of the season convienently disguised that fact. Benetez should have gone 2 years ago. Last season was the last roar of the sleeping giant that has now died. Liverpool are going one direction only and it isn't up.

  • Comment number 9.

    Its the beginning of the end in my opinion if they don't qualify for the CL this year. Reasons why:

    1. Financial trouble
    2. Small stadium relative to their fan base
    3. A squad lacking in quality and value (Can't see Liverpool recovering their outlays on Lucas, Babel etc.)
    4. Youth academy isn't fantastic - Gerrard and Carragher are the only fantastic prospects in a long time.
    5. Increasingly competitive league - Villa, Man City, Fulham, Everton and Spurs are all doing well atm along with Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd.
    6. Support and therefore merchandising profits will cease to exist once their reputation declines (look at Leeds)
    7. Board room troubles - I'm no expert but there seems to have been a lot of unrest from the board room.
    8. Torres and Gerrard can only carry them so far and Carragher isn't what he used to be.

  • Comment number 10.

    I do agree LFC is no where a team, it was last season! But, the real question is that who will come to manage a club where there are only 2 class player and the owners don't have funds for new players..

    There was a talk of Mourinho coming to LFC, why would he leave his job at Inter Milan?

    Next even if board sacks Rafa, than they will have to give £20 million to Rafa.. and if Rafa goes so will Torres! I suppose he could still if we LFC doesn't make it to CL.

    I do agree that change is needed, but for some reason I reckon it will be much worse!

    I guess, I don't know!

  • Comment number 11.

    Yeah now it's clear, it's not just sale of Alonso. I'm not sure how it could change so much since last season. Maybe his luck has run out, it happens sometimes. He's always had very questionable tactics, which have come through for him more times than they should have.

  • Comment number 12.

    Rafa simply has to go.The team are bloody awful,worst I've ever seen and he even seems uninterested himself.Give the job to Kenny for rest of the season and see how he does.Let's face it,he couldn't do much worse.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think the saking of Benitez has been well over due! Liverpool are sitting in 7th, out of the CL, FA Cup and Carling Cup ye he still has his job, it seems ridiculous! I think Liverpool have to be relegated for us to see Benitez get sacked, yet again he still might be lucky!

  • Comment number 14.

    My guess is that the players and staff at Liverpool FC have realised that the club does possess the financial resources to match its ambition and this is why the team is performing way below last season's standards. The pool was weakened by the sale of Alonso instead of being strengthened, which was necessary to mount a serious bid for the Premier league.
    It would not be surprising if the current set up disintegrates: Benitez fired, Torres, sold, Gerrard moves on to one of the elite clubs club before its too late for him.

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi Phil,

    Have to agree with you here. Time for Benitez is running out (or has it already). Where Arsenal's lack of trophies over the last 4.5 seasons has been mentioned often, Liverpool are now also without one for 3.5 seasons. However, the situations at both clubs could not be different. Arsenal generally have a young squad, have invested heavily in their stadium and youth development over the last seasons, where Benitez has tried to bring direct success to Liverpool bij signing a lot of middle-aged players (Voronin, Aurelio, Degen, Kuyt, Benayoun, Keane etc.) who will not improve. To lose matches is not the biggest, but, as you mention, the manner in which you lose them. There is little perspective for Liverpool I am afraid.

    Another question that rises is the following: are Liverpool unlucky this season, or where they lucky last season? I think we should not ignore the latter, as their decline in form is just incredible. They were overperforming last season.

    To finish off, what a brilliant performance by Reading. They actually outplayed Liverpool from time to time and could have won it in 90 minutes. Nice to see the "magic" of the Cup still excists.

  • Comment number 16.

    Phil. You clearly enjoyed writing that blog. Its been sometime since I saw such enthusiasm from you.

    If not Benitez, then who should manage Liverpool?

    O’Neil has won nothing apart from at Celtic and let’s face it, your cat/dog/budgie could do that in the SPL. OK, I know some of you think him once getting Celtic into the Champion’s League knock out stages was the big achievement, but didn’t Benitez once actually win the competition? So that argument is negated. He isn’t the one.

    Kilnsmann was carried by Lowe who was the real driving force behind the German performance in the last world cup. Klinsmann’s only club experience was a disastrous nine months before being kicked out of Bayern Munich. He’s also fallen foul of Hicks so that looks like a “no go” thankfully.

    Mourinho would have more sense than to come to Liverpool from Inter Milan, if for the only reason that the owners of Inter are more likely to invest in the team.

    Hiddink just signed a new deal with the Russians and he says that’s his last job before he retires.

    Ronald Koeman: Lasted 16 games at AZ Alkmaar.

    Frank Rijkaard: He still has 18 months to run on his contract at Galatasaray.

    Bruce Arena: Don’t laugh. The manager of the USA national team. Think of it. American owners. ……… It wouldn’t take too much to imagine them employing an American. Would it? They wouldn’t – would they? They might you know.

    So what do we have left?
    Alan Curbishly?
    Mark Hughes?
    Slaven Bilic?
    Steve McLaren?
    Tony Blair?
    Lionel Blair?
    Strawberry Fair?

    Anyway. It could have been worse. We could have lost at home to a League 1 side.

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't think the top four is open to Liverpool any more. Not just on form, but also in terms of spending power.

    Benitez is probably safe due to his new contract and the huge pay-off needed to get rid of him.

    In any case, who else could do better withing the existing constraints?

    Another foreigner? The famous boot room production line of managers ended long ago.

    Mark Hughes is out of work, would he be the answer??? A chance to prove he really can manage at the top level.

  • Comment number 18.

    Time is up RAFA!
    He persists with players that just aint good enough for Liverpool and have no confidence.
    Inusa good last season but he can't defend!!!
    Lucas premiership quality???
    Babel cash in for him

    If they change manager now they might still be able to get 4th. It may cost £20mil but how much money would they lose if they don't get 4th?!!

  • Comment number 19.

    No.8 "I don't hear any calls for Shane Long to be snapped up either which is strange given he is a more complete player than Beckford"

    except he doesnt score goals!?....

  • Comment number 20.

    Surley liverpool will only have to pay benitiez until he gets another job?

  • Comment number 21.

    Well done to Reading but in all honestly Liverpool could not have made it easier for them if they'd tried. The only width provided by Liverpool were the one-paced Kuyt and Benayoun with occasional support from the distinctly mediocre Degen and Insua. To compound matters for Liverpool they have a slow, disorganised central defensive pairing who simply don't ever look comfortable against anyone.

    Alonso is clearly a big loss for Liverpool as Lucas is a long way short of Alonso's quality and, based on last night's performance, it's going to take Aquilani sometime before he gets to grips with English football. Having said that though the problems Liverpool had last night are hardly new i.e. desperately lacking in width and inspiration when trying to break down sides who defend in numbers.

    A top four finish seems highly unlikely and it will take more than Maxi Rodrigues or Marouane Chamakh to improve things significantly next season.

  • Comment number 22.

    You say Gerrard is being dragged down by the lack of quality around him (i agree he has been poor by his standards, most disappointingly in terms of his leadership) yet the only real personnel change of any note from last season was Alonso's departure, which you don't 'buy into' as a reason for Liverpool's decline. The quality of the squad has not changed over the summer, so what has?

    A combination of things, i believe. Firstly i believe now that we may have been punching above our weight in the league and flattered to deceive largely due to the poor form of the likes of Chelsea early in the season. This led expectations to be unrealistically high this season. Secondly, Benitez' lack of man-management skills. We have seen many times how Benitez cannot get the best out of some players who seem destined to be great players, and also an inability to keep top players happy when they don't play every game (Keane, Crouch, Babel, etc). This is coming back to haunt him now as he seems unable to get the best out of anyone in this team. There confidence has been low for a long long time now and the manager has to take a lot of flak for not being able to inspire them and rouse a big turnaround of fortunes. Don't get me wrong, the players have been well below par this season, and need to have a long hard look at themselves, but Benitez is going to have to shoulder most of the blame and come up with a plan b, and fast...

  • Comment number 23.

    Why oh why is Benitez still in a job at Liverpool? I have said it before and I'll say it again - the worst thing that happened is the Champions League win in 2005. It made him into a hero when in reality he is not good enough to be classed as poor. The rubbish on the pitch last night was just embarassing. Insua is not good enough for a Championship side let alone a Premier league team. The nutmeg on him which led to the second goal was embarassing. My 9 year old could have done a better job than that. That Reading managed to score 4 of the 5 goals over the two matches says it all. Please Benitez, do us fans a favour and go. Your interview on the tv after the match was cringeing. You failed to answer a single question as asked. In fact you were so embarassing, if the interviewer had asked you for your favourite colour, you'd have said "square". Luck doesn't come into it. It's no good saying we've been undone by late goals. If it keeps hapeening, there's a fundamental problem and that fundamental problem is that our defence is dreadful.
    Embarassed to be a Liverpool fan. Still we can always win the Championship next year because that's where this lot deserves to be.

  • Comment number 24.

    I for one fervently hope that Liverpool allow Benitez to see out his 5 year contract. Why because they will never win anything with him at the helm, his negative tactics are an absolute boon to me. Why I have a long standing bet with 2 scouse mates that it will be 25 years at least between Liverpool winning the top League title and sfter this year it will be 21 and with Benitez in charge it will be a shoo in. It's not the money by the way it's the pleasure I get from the look on their faces as they disappear from another competition, still there is always the fight to avoid relegation

  • Comment number 25.

    The demise of Liverpool is hard to fathom. Alonso is an exceptional player, but Manchester United lost arguably the best player in the world yet they are still with a fighting chance of all comps except the FA Cup. So you have to look at other explanations.

    Gerrard and Torres have been plagued with injuries this season and that hasn't helped but we have known for a while now that without these two Liverpool aren't a great side - so why hasn't Rafa done something about it? After he sold Crouch he never replaced him and got a decent secondry/back up striker. David N'gog isn't good enough to play at this level and Voronin never got his career going at Liverpool. Instead he spent £20 million... sorry still makes me laugh... on a player who was injured and wasn't really needed unless he sold Lucas who is shocking. How he has a contract at a team like Liverpool is beyond belief in my opinion. Another player we miss however is Mascherano.

    But as a fan i just can't fall back on that. Gerrard for me doesn't seem to have the same fire in his belly and that is probably because others are dragging him down due to lack of quality as you say Phil. Carragher has been dreadful at the back - Insua.. my god.. There just isn't the passion or belief in the side anymore and if Benitez is to stay, he must get the players back on board and to get some belief. How many times have Liverpool conceded a late goal.. that isn't luck, that is a a problem and needs fixing. It would be unlucky if it happened once or twice, but the best teams are the ones that SCORE in the final minute, not concede.

    Benitez has been under unnecessary pressure from the board early on, and the fans have stood by him and I think he needs to start giving something back, as do the players.

    We will not finish in the top four. Man City or Tottenham will get that spot and to be honest, Spurs deserve it far more than we do. G and T will leave and with it hopefully Hicks and Gillet.

    But hey, at least we have the Europa League to look forward to ey?

  • Comment number 26.

    I've said before that Liverpool fans, in my opinion, are the most loyal and football-intelligent fans in the country. However i think that their loyalty is proving their downfall at the moment.

    Fans of any other club would have forced Benitez out 1 or maybe 2 years ago... unfortunately the loyalty of liverpool fans has simply seen a amanager (who has been in the job 5.5 years now) get rewarded with a ridiculously long contract as the owners try and show some false stability. All this has done has made it so they are lumbered with a manager that will cost them c£20m to sack and then obvioulsy need to replace him with another (wages, signing on fee, agents fee?, compensation to other club etc)... which means Rafa it is!

    I am not a liverpool fan - but as a fan of football i want to see this brilliant club competing at the highest level and with Rafa (not to mention the current owners) seemilngly doing all they can to stop this.

    Never mind Rafa sorting out 1 big result or anything - or even clawing back the gap to finish in the top 4...or even winning the Europa league.... As McNulty predicted at the start of the season - this years premier league is wide open - and Liverpool, having had a stable manager for 5.5 years - who has been given money to invest - should be as well placed as ever to win the premier league.... and they are 7th... not top where many thought they should be - or second... or even in the top 4... they are 7th, out the Champions league AT THE EARLIEST POSSIBILITY, out the FA CUP AT THE EARLIEST OPPORTUNITY, out of the title race... pretty much as soon as they could, and out the Carling Cup as well (Arsenal youth/reserves).

    Sack Rafa - get in Hiddink or some other top drawer manager, Fans force out the Owners, and start again....

  • Comment number 27.

    Wife bought me a crystal ball for Christmas. Im looking in 3 years time, and Liverpool and Man United were involved in a great game at Anfield, United won 2-1 to move into the top four in League One with Liverpool falling down to 6th.
    City and Chelsea head the Premier League, Torres notching 2 for City over the weekend.
    United seem to be missing their former stars, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Vidic, Evra, Van Der Sar, Neville,Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson, Berbatov, even Nani and their manager Mike Phelan is puzzled why the slide was so sudden.
    Liverpool, with the same problems as United, are as puzzled with their decline since Torres and Gerrard left along with Reina, Carragher et al.
    Both clubs declined to comment over accusations that their season tickets are overpriced at an average of £1000 per season, stating that the class of customer has improved along with sales of Prawn Sandwiches.
    As a United season ticket holder today, I wish the wife hadn't bought me a crystal ball, its as depressing as Liverpools fans present state of mind.

  • Comment number 28.

    My guess is that with the dearth of real replacement options, Hiddink and MO'N are the only two I'd want atm, the americans are waiting to see if Guardiola stays at Barca. Maybe we'll get hiddink in as an interim choice, or maybe Dalglish will take over, but something needs to happen.

    Rafa isn't getting the players to believe in each other. we bossed the second half (and Aquilani shone for the first time in that 30 minute period) but one run through the middle by McAnuff and the whole team looked nervous and it undermined all of the good play that preceeded it, I felt there was only going to be one winner from then on, even if it did take a soft penalty (not a "lunge" phil, an ankle clip well-capitalised on by the forward) to get them there.

    The second goal was class and it's hard to hold the pen against them because they were denied one in the first game (Darby - who had an otherwise good game). But why the officials turned blind eyes to Church taking out Degen, Bertrand's handball (stand like a GK with your hands out and its a pen, you're standing like that to block the ball so it's deliberate), and Aquilani's manhandling I don't know.

    The team is getting a lot of flack but by far the best football I've seen in weeks came without Gerrard or Torres on the field, Aquilani deserved a goal but nerves and a slight lack of composure denied him when the opportunity came. I can't help but feel that Pacheco (who has been bright when given the chance) is a much better option than Babel, who was awful again and really should have played his last game for the club. There's a really good team in this squad but they need a leader at the head, not a tactician. Time for change.

  • Comment number 29.

    Good blog, pretty much says it all.

    I think the accountability of the team rests with Rafa, but the players have to take some kind of responsibility. However if he continues to play mediocre players likes Lucas and Ngog, I have no sympathy for Benitez what so ever.

    They are both simply not good enough and don’t fit in a team that has these so called “high objectives”. Don’t get me wrong, they both have ability and are not the sole reason Liverpool are pants, but looking at the team from an outsiders point of view, you have to start somewhere and if Rafa doesn’t go, he needs to sort out those 2 sausages.

  • Comment number 30.

    I find it quite amusing how Man Utd and Liverpools fortunes are so similar this season. Struggling to cope with the loss of a key player(s) lacklustre performances, reliant on 1/2 world class players, knocked out by so called lesser opposition in the cup, and apparent financial meltdown on the way. Common denominator? Greedy American businessmen who dont have a clue about English football.

  • Comment number 31.

    There are two things which will determine Rafa's fate:

    1) Can the board find an adequate replacement quickly? They won't sack him until they have - and they know a caretaker will not do. They'll need to find one in the next 2 or 3 weeks or it will be too late for the new manager to make enough of a difference this season.

    2) What are the political and PR issues surrounding the timing of the announcement of a replacement? If the board make a quick decisive move to sack Benitez despite the alleged £18m redundancy package, it might help calm some of the vociferous minority who want Gillett and Hicks out. It will certainly be spun as evidence that the board spends money when it needs to in order to achieve success. Dragging put the sacking and the finding of a replacement will only be used by the malcontents as fuel for their recruiting bus.

  • Comment number 32.

    Player for player Liverpool aren't good enough. Although missing Mascherano and Johnson - for whom Degen was a surprisingly good deputy - the spine of the team that includes Reina, Gerrard and the centreback pairing is surrounded by mediocrity. Aquilani isn't up to premiership speed and showed good touch and classy passing. Rodriquez hasn't pulled on a shirt yet.

    But Insua was unremittingly awful, and way too slow, Lucas gave the ball away constantly, Benayoun too, and he contrived to miss the best chance of the game, Ngog and Babel both ran into endless blind alleys, got caught on the ball and passed wildly. Kuyt ran and ran to no effect. None of them would get on the bench at the Emirates, Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, nor would the absent Riera.

    The manager picks the team and must take the blame - after five years these are all Rafa's own players, bought or retained by him, playing in his formation and to his tactics - under his direction.

    The only reason to change the manager now would be if his successor were to be given a war chest to replace the dead wood. And if that money's available why couldn't it be given to Rafa?

    Major change is already underway - Aquilani and Rodriguez seem to be part of that. With everybody fit, Liverpool actually only need a left back and a right wing to have an impressive first 11:


    ______________Reina_______________

    Johnson Agger Skrtel New left back

    ___________Mascherano____________

    New right wing Gerrard Aquilani Rodriguez

    _____________Torres_______________


    But looking at who played last night you can see that as well as being a couple of players short on the pitch, our bench is a complete disaster.

    A further threat is the potential loss of Gerrard and Torres - the latter may be lined up for sale anyway if Chamakh is coming, while Gerrard may feel this team is going nowhere and cash in on the few years he has left with a big money move to Spain.

    Even if Benitez isn't given the chance to change this, somebody else will have to.





  • Comment number 33.

    Also, I think the injuries to Torres and Gerrard are massively overrated. Yes, they are great players, but Liverpool have also performed poor when they were playing (last night for instance). Gerrard has been generally been poor and Torres, despite a few moments of brilliance, has not set the world alight either.

    And for injuries. Look at Man Utd, who are still right up there and challenging for 3 trophies, and who are without several defenders and their goalkeeper. Or Arsenal, who are missing several attacking options (Fabregas, Walcott, van Persie, Bendtner at the same time) and they are also still challenging and getting results.

  • Comment number 34.

    Phil you forgot to mention the genius that was Rick Parry who we only managed to get rid of just before the season started with respect to wisely spending transfer money he was a massive stumbling block.

    We aren't playing well this is true. Different tactics every week poor passing terrible defending and Kuyt and Insua not being up to it.

    However we are stilll 7th and beat Villa (god knows how) in the premiership the other day.

    I think it is time now that Rafa has to say enough is enough and not resign but send Stevie and Torres for their operations. Although they are our 2 star players the other 9 men on the pitch just can't carry them when they aren't 100% fit. I think this is what is taking the confidence away from our players-Stevie and Torres are getting picked 75% fit ahead of fully fit players. This isn't fair and is obviously upsetting the squad. They need ops they must go for them as soon as possible so that further long term damage is not caused.

    I won't mention SOS group as there is lots on the 606 boards. There is no better alternative at the moment to Rafa as boss although I would be happy if Roy Hodgson could get the job if Rafa were to go. However with us not having loads of money I would prefer to keep Rafa and the £20million+ it would cost to buy him out of his contract than get someone else in before the end of the season.

    Bring on Stoke.

  • Comment number 35.

    freddy, Lucas had one of his worst games, truly awful, I'm really dissapointed in him. N'Gog showed the same as ever, some good touches - I think he deftly set up Gerrard's shot which ended in the goal, but little penetration or composure, I think he needs a season in the championship where he can learn his game a bit more. Babel was the real shocker, I don't think the brums will shell out 9m for that!

  • Comment number 36.

    Phil if Benitez was to get the axe, and even though you never say a manager should get sacked, who do you think would come in as his replacement??

  • Comment number 37.

    "I was as fooled as anyone by Liverpool's stunning form..."

    You, and the rest of BBC Merseyside, were the only ones fooled by an awful Real, United losing a game of hoof-the-ball and Villa imploding.

    "Liverpool have not looked right from day one" - if you'd paid any attention to their dire pre-season you wouldn't have joined the queue of Mersey-pundits backing Benitez's dead donkey.

    Perhaps BBC Sport's chief football writer should also be battling to save himself?

  • Comment number 38.

    Liverpool are a joke at the moment. I have supported them for over 50 years and can say, without doubt, that some of the players on the pitch last night are amongst the worst to put on the shirt in that time. Lucas and Ngog wouldn't get in my pub team. Insua must be the slowest full back in the football league and Degen has not got it. Benitez bought them but Sammy Lee has to do his job and tell him to take his blinkers off and actually see that they are not up to the job. If l was Gerrard and Torres l would be asking my agent for a move asap!!

  • Comment number 39.

    #34

    Hodgson is an interesting one... get him in and bring Murphy in with him (offer him a deal where we can work him through his badges at the club) - I wouldn't complain.

  • Comment number 40.

    Dont understand why Liverpool fans still complain about Lucas!? Probably best Liverpool player last night. I agree at the start of the season he was poor but I do believe he has turned his season around

  • Comment number 41.

    Also carragher seems to be very average. Just hitting long balls upfield time and time again. Refuses to give it to the midfields feet. From what I have seen aqualani looks poor and should no where near be worth the 20 Odd mil rafa paid

  • Comment number 42.

    I agree with Phil, there is way too much mediocrity in this team that Rsfa has built. Lucas, Kuyt, Babel, Ngog and Insua are awful. If he wants to save his job (which is hanging by a thread at the moment) he needs to make some big changes soon. Unfortunately I don't think he will because he is a stubborn as an ox!

  • Comment number 43.

    Wow, how good must you be feeling, Phil? After months and months of Liverpool fans hysterically responding to the mildest of observations by you about their club, you go for the throat and not so much as a whisper of complaint from the Red horde. Methinks that, in all this debate, is the clearest sign that Rafa's now lost the Kop and will very soon lose his job. (I, for one, won't miss his stonewalling post-match interviews.)

  • Comment number 44.

    Mark Hughes is out of work, would he be the answer??? A chance to prove he really can manage at the top level.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Mark Hughes manager of Liverpool, now that would be a twist, considering as a player he spent his entire career inflicting damage on Liverpool, every single time he played against them. I don't think he has too much love for the club.

  • Comment number 45.

    Smithy, I generally rate Lucas, I think he's better than, say, Fletcher was at this age. But yesterday he was awful, he was looking forwards for passes for once but made the wrong decision time after time. He improved in the second half, but it's not good enough. He's a squad player forced to play every week.

  • Comment number 46.

    Seeing as how very few people on here are prepared to say it, I will.
    The better team won last night. Reading played really well. And they didn't merely "get the breaks" [they didn't] & work hard [though they did]; they played with flair, skill and ambition. They had obviously planned well in advance and they played as a team, although there were some fine individual performances as well. I hope Brian McDermott gets the job full-time, for his and the club's sake.

  • Comment number 47.

    I expect Benitez to go at the end of the season.

    Sacking him now makes no sense, the market for managers mid-season is always a very limited one. Indeed tehre are only two good options out there now if they did get rid of him, Hiddink as a short term measure (he wont sign for next season because of the Russia job) or Mark Hughes (who I don't think Liverpool fans will like).

    Keep Benitez for now, give him the chance to pick things up, if they go on a great run then maybe keep him otherwise appoint someone in April in readiness for next season.

    There is too much mediocrity in the team in general, The defence lacks a leader now that Carragher seems to have got a case of the yips, the midfield badly needs a creative influence (Gerrard, as fantastic as he is, has never been that kind of player) and Torres desperately needs another striker who can play instead of or alongside him to give the team a plan B.

    On this seasons for Carragher is not good enough anymore, Agger and Skrtel are good second defenders but neither is good enough to lead, Insua is still not the finished article, Lucas is a decent squad player and improving but has little confidence (a loan spell with a smaller club where he could boss the midfield would do him the world of good) and Mascherano is just waiting for his move out. Gerrard and Torres are tired and frustrated and it shows, only Benayoun and on occasion Johnson and Kuyt have stepped up at all to offer much in the way of optimism.

    The summer simply has to see soem sensible investment in the team otherwise the decline could be terminal, Gerrard is 30 this summer and rapidly approaching make or break time in terms of moving elsewhere, it will take serious convincing if a bid comes in from Madrid or Barca. Perhaps it wouldnt be a bad thing though. Liverpool's last sagnation was broken by the sale of Michael Owen as it forced the team to restructure, perhaps that is what is needed now.

  • Comment number 48.

    Whatever the situation is however it is, why do we have a wrong notion of blaming only the coach ,its a team Benitez is just a coach Liverpool have around 15 players in them who are dedicated to their team, A mediocre team like BurnleyLeeds can beat Man U or Reading beating Liverpool is not because of thier coaches but of the mindset of the players,Too much of hype and over-rating of english clubs and players is the main reason, show me one English player who makes a difference for his team. They are good but not as big as English people claim. only if the player is extremely good like Ronaldo or Ronaldinho or Zidane, you can build a team around them, A player like Stevie G or Rooney or Frank or Terry need to have top class players around them to perform. Its a challenge to you PHIL, Neither of the English players can shine in La Liga or Serie A, OWEN considered to be one of the English greats at his time couldnt make it at Real Madrid, English players lack Skill and Spirit, What can the Coach do,

  • Comment number 49.

    Benitez time is up and has been for some time but Liverpool can't afford to sack him, surely. It's ironic that they would probably have to sell Torres to fund Benitez's compensation. I'm unconvinced by this Liverpool team and have been for the last 3 years, despite the purple patch last season. The players priv ately lack confidence in the manager, in my view - he can't get them up any more. The saddest thing however is the lack of excitement in the way Liverpool play; aren't the Kop bored? OK, I am a Man U fan but I say this at the same time as admitting that we are punching well above our weight this season. Our team is also unconvincing compared to the last 3 years but the difference I feel is that Fergie is looking to build yet another team next season and what stopped him from doing that this year was Man City and Real Madrid grossly inflating the transfer market. Liverpool, I feel, are on track to win nothing and fail to qualify for the CL; they may even struggle to qualify for the Europa League.

  • Comment number 50.

    There's many points I could address but I figure the majority of them will have been covered in the previous 43 posts.

    One thing worth pointing out is the "money thing". There seems to be a lot of allusions to the lack of cash at Benitez's disposal. There's a link here - http://www.transferleague.co.uk/ - where if you scroll to the bottom of the page there is a 2004-2009 (this time period pretty much covers the entiriety of the Benitez tenure, excluding this years spend) spending table. It clearly shows that Liverpool have consistently been one of the biggest spenders. Those figures also take into account the money recouped from selling on players.

    Make of that what you will, but in my humble opinion, it shows that for all the money Benitez has had the poor depth of the squad is, ultimately, Benitez's own doing.

  • Comment number 51.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 52.

    I've been saying for a long time that Rafa is not the manager to take Liverpool forward. Last night was a disgrace, the whole team were clueless, the manager has lost the plot completely. I'm fed up with these 'In Rafa We Trust' fans, they need to wake up and smell the coffee. For God's sake get rid of him NOW! He has managed to assemble a squad of mediocre players at best, his tactics are baffling and his motivational skills seem to be non existent. How much longer can he live off the lucky win in Instanbul 5 years ago!!!!!

  • Comment number 53.

    Another load of anti Benitez and anti Liverpool drivel from McNulty. Unfortunately, I have to fund your wages thru the licence fee. The way that you and your fellow members of your profession crusade to get Benitez the sack is disgusting. You're no more than a bully. Anyway, Benitez is doing a good enough job to get himself the sack! :-) You tipped Liverpool to win the Premier League and you're going to get that wrong. Do the noble thing McNulty and resign yourself.

  • Comment number 54.

    I am a villa fan to you cannot say I have any underlying dislike towards to Liverpool but Benitez has never ever been a world class manager, he has too longed lived off the back of 2005 in which Liverpool scraped through games with last minute goals and pieces of brilliance by Gerrard, he has saved Rafas career for far too long.

    He knows he is doing a terrible job but with sarcastic remarks and 4 years left on his contract he will remain there to the delight of Man Utd and Everton fans......

    Mourinho..........no chance...........he is not stupid

  • Comment number 55.

    Liverpool are going nowhere until they get rid of that headless chicken in midfield.

    The name of the headless chicken is Steven Gerrard.

    I don't expect many of you to comprehend this as you are too busy watching the few highlights of what he does right, rather than analysing everything else he does wrong.

  • Comment number 56.

    diamondronaldinho - Wrong! check your facts, Owen was the best striker Real Madrid had that year, scoring 18 in all competitions, he went after they brought in Baptista (ha! good choice Real!)

  • Comment number 57.

    #3. city ground resident - fingers crossed for the Mighty Forest eh?
    Although years of disappointment still temper my optimism

    Couldnt agree more about Rafa also. If it wasnt for the Champions League in '05 I think he would have been gone already

  • Comment number 58.

    Ah the sound of knives being sharpened...

    Awful performance last night and that team look totally bereft of confidence. Well played Reading - defended deep (and well) and hit us effectively on the break. Trying to push both fullbacks forward is consistently proving to be a problem when we're trying to break teams down and we're getting caught out far too often doing it. Oh sorry, not the place for actually looking at the match is it?

    If you didn't think Alonso leaving and a dramatic shift in how we play wasn't going to have an impact on the team, then I'd love to watch football the way you do Phil. Throw in the injuries to our best players, and I think it's fairly easy to see how the team has got into this rut where they are so fragile in confidence.

    It's a good story for you guys, but unless Rafa walks out, you're not going to get his head on a platter unless you can convince the supporters that he needs to go immediately and that there's a better manager available.

    Let's hear the options to replace him and a neutral review of what resources are available to a Liverpool manager to make changes. The former will give me a chuckle, the latter would be a service to some of the wools who are living in cloudcuckooland.

  • Comment number 59.

    When a Liverpool performance is so deflating it makes Everton fans want to record the re-run it is time for the manager to go. The danger for Liverpool now is that the easy Europa draw will encourage them to stick with a manager who is unable to raise the team's performances this season and they will drift away from the top four and possibly out of any European qualification. If you don't like Liverpool, urge them to keep Benitez until Easter!

  • Comment number 60.

    4. At 07:44am on 14 Jan 2010, pdlepage wrote:
    As a United fan, it's easy to gloat at Liverpool, however their dismal season only highlights our own shortcomings....how on earth did we manage to lose so tamely to that lot?!
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Easy to gloat? You were knocked out by a Division 1 team only a few days ago so I don't think you have too much to gloat about in that regard.

    And if we could only manage to beat other teams as consistently as we have beaten United over the last couple of seasons we would be sailing.

    I feel Benitez should quit and leave with a little dignity, but he won't because he knows he will get a nice pay off if he's sacked.

  • Comment number 61.

    Reading were great, well done but...
    Words almost fail me, I feel so angry that my club is being dragged down. The way so many 'Loyal Reds' still vehemently spring to Benitez's defence is now making me sick. Managers are sought after and paid astronomical wages because they dictate the attitude, spirit, style, cohesion, pride, motivation and will to win at clubs. Most importantly of all is that players need to play for their manager...are any Liverpool players playing for Benitez? I don't think so...and if I am right...why aren't they? If fellow Reds want to have a go at me and call me disloyal I believe that they need to wake up and take their Istanbul specs off .I am fiercely loyal to my club and I'll still be paying money to watch them for another 40 years, if I am lucky. I am less loyal to those who are only there because of their contracts. If it's not working, fix it. Also, not that it matters, I am from Liverpool, live in Liverpool, love my team and have been a seson ticket holder for 30 years hence I am not jumping on any ill conceived, media driven bandwagon. GET RID NOW, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

  • Comment number 62.

    Keep it up Rafa! Great job ...
    I'm wondering who'll go first - Gerrard or Benitez??? Obviously if Gerrard starts making noises, the manager's gone in a heartbeat. No way the Liverpool board can survive without their only consistent world-class player. Torres? Don't make me laugh! I think we've found the new Sicknote" ...

  • Comment number 63.

    still... we can always follow the youth team a 5-1 win and hopefully another run in the youth cup ahead! Gwan Lauri!

  • Comment number 64.

    FAO Mr Cheesecake,

    O'Neill isn't the one??

    Any team would b lucky to have Martin O'Neill as a manager! I am a Celtic fan and I find what you say shows that you have a lack of football knowledge.

    Martin O'Neill got Leicester promoted and were a top 10 team in the Premiership for a few years (where are the now??).

    He is currently doing a fantastic job at Aston Villa, who will no doubt finish above Liverpool this year, and the job he done at Celtic was nothing short of magnificent.

    To overtake a Rangers team which had so much talent in it, (the de Boer twins, Arteta, Tugay, Reyna, Amoruso etc) restore Celtic to the top of the league, beat good teams consistently in the Champions League ( check our home record by the way, 4th best in the competition)e.g., Juventus, Lyon, Barcelona, Ajax etc, and also take Celtic to a UEFA Cup final, beating teams like Blackburn and Liverpool (remember that game?) comfortably along the way.

    To say he isn't the one is wrong, he is exactly the type of manager Liverpool need, it is just a matter of time before one of the big big clubs go for him.

  • Comment number 65.

    # 53.

    Think you are being a bit harsh on Phil with your comments. He is only telling it as it is. If you are so delusional that you cannot see that our club is falling apart in front of our eyes I feel sorry for you. We have a lousy manager, lousy owners and too many players who are not fit to wear the red shirt.

  • Comment number 66.

    I've watch bits and pieces of Liveropol this season and am saddened by their decline. Unfortunately i feel it is time for Rafa to leave, purely because the club needs a shake up, and the yanks aint gonna leave at the moment.

    Liverpool have endured a tough time with injuries to Gerrard and Torres and they lost Alonso this summer, but Rafa has had two years previous to this summer to address the issue of bringing in genuine quality to back up Gerrard and Torres and failed too. Robbie Keane was bound to have failed at Liverpool, he is happy being a big fish in a small pond Re: Tottenham and Republic of Ireland. You put him in with genuine quaality and he struggles Re: Inter Milan.

    On the flip side, i feel sorry for Rafa because the passive rascism in the media in this country has been building pressure on him for the last three years and have been trying to turn his power base ie the Kop faithful against him for the last 6 months.

    Anytime they get a chance to, they will state " Rafa's safe unless the Kop turn agaimst him". That to me sounds like one out of Fergie's book of kidology! I can't help feeling that if the clown currently known as 'Arry Redknapp was in charge, the sole focus of all the problems would be focused on the "foreign owners" and any wild statements from 'Arry would be ignored, and this guy loves to make a wild statement Re: the dross he spouts in the Sun on a regular basis.

    As i said earlier i belive Rafa should go, but i cannot see anyone of any calibre coming in to takeover. Liverpool, like Man Utd and Chelsea need an overhaul of the squad. I cannot see them making much from the sales of Babbel, Lucas, Kuyt etc. But with the turmoil over the corporate debt and the idea of who is actually calling the shots, who would want to come in to the madness.

    Aswell as getting rid of the dead wood from the squad you have to take into consideration the ability to keep the jewels in the crown. Mascherano's head was clearly turned last summer by Barcelona, and if the the transfer merry go round works out in favour of La Liga again, then Fabregas could be heading to Barca with Toure heading to Arsenal and thus freeing up a holdind role berth at the Camp Nou.

    Then you have case of Gerrard, he's either 29 or 30 and really and truly its his last chance to make a move to get that elusive league title to his name. He is at a major crossroads where he has to decide to be a one club man or roll the dice and join the City revolution. Chelsea is out of the equation now as i think they will be re adressng their transfer policy this year and look to bring in under 23 signings.

    Finally you have Torres, this guy could very well start pre season training as a World Champion and to come back to this mediocre band of players with only the Europa Leage, at best, to look forward to, that may just be enough to sway him to move one. He wants to be challenging for the major hounours ie Premier League, Champions League, not just making up the numbers...

    The only real way for Liverpool to change their fortunes is for someone to buy the club outright and bring stability from the top downwards, but doesnt look that likely, so the fall guy has to be Benetiz.

    The only comfort Liverpool fans can take is that we are now scratching the surface on Man Ut's woe and that could lead to a meltdown down the road...

  • Comment number 67.

    Good post Phil and I agrre with much of it. Problem is i feel a case of chicken and egg. In May at the end of last season I, like you, tipped us for the PL title PROVIDED we bought a striker and right winger (both of the class of Torres, Gerrard, Mascherano and Reina (the only truly world class players we have). In other words I was saying that we needed to spend around £50-60m to be challenging this season. That didnt happen

    Instead what we got was our owners getting all 'Tory front bench' and deciding to cut and cut and cut even to the extent that new contracts would diminish Rafas transfer budget. Hence he has been running things on a shoe string (dont forget Johnson and Aquilani were not bought with new money but through the sales of Alonso and Arbeloa).

    So my blame goes directly onto the owners. But Rafa doesnt escape. His man mgmt (ie Alonso in summer of 08) has been appalling, the Keane episode was very unsavoury. His selections and tactics this term have been woeful. Too cautious whilst attacking from postions we need solidity in ie full back. The reliance on Torres this season has been unprecedented -I dont include Gerrard as he has been dreadful this season. I honestly believe his form and that of players like Carragher can be put down to a collective resignation and depression -they thought quite justifiably that there would be major signings last summer and there wrent. Instead our best player of last season was sold.

    We've reaped what we've sown in terms of our asset stripping owners (a la Glaziers) and our ultra cautious manager.

  • Comment number 68.

    Does anyone else think that maybe Liverpool need a giant overhaul? Sell Gerrard (£40m) and Torres (£60m) and sack Rafa (£20m) and give the new manager £80m to restructure his team? Liverpool definitely need to get rid of their over reliance on Gerrard and Torres and while they don't have the funds or the manager to do that then surely there is only one possible way?

  • Comment number 69.

    I've been a Liverpool fan for 40 years; I am passionate about them and, to be honest, I really don't care about other teams - but I don't see the point in the silly slanging matches that go on on some of these blogs. I read lots of posting from Liverpool fans that blindly support the team and claim 'greatness around the corner' or continue to bang on about what we did 20 years ago.
    The fact is the current team is poor - there are perhaps 4-5 players who seem to have genuine quality. It is not this season that is the disaster - it was last season ! Coming close last season (aided by a few near misses) masked the fact we had an 'OK' team - then we sold Alonso.
    We will not become a great side again unless we are ruthless : Lucas is mediocre, Insua is poor, Kuyt is hard working but not a real striker, Ngog is out of his depth, Babel is woeful - we need a sound full back (and Johnson needs to work on his defence); we need a truly creative midfielder to play alongside a driving Gerrard to give him some freedom and take some of the pressure off; we need two genuinely good strikers to work with Torres - so we have three strikers to mix and match through the season, not just one as we have now.
    Face it : we're an average team with 4-5 excellent players, 2-3 OK ones and some weak ones. My real concern is Benetez cannot see this and is too proud or stubborn to admit the side he has put together isn't performing - he must take bold and decisive action - either radically change personnel or he needs to go
    Some might say 'stop winging and support the team' - I say to them - I am supporting my team, by saying what needs to be said, I will support the team forever, but I will only support the management if they are making the right, the hard, decisions

  • Comment number 70.

    3 words....

    Schteeve Van McClaren.

  • Comment number 71.

    @ 28 "There's a really good team in this squad but they need a leader at the head, not a tactician. Time for change."

    Unfortunately, I have to now agree.

    I still don't really know what the problem with Rafa is, but it started pre-season and the complete absence of any meaningful preparation.

    In the time being the way the media have hounded him is disgusting.

    That certainly includes you Phil, with your curiously frequent analysis of what was going wrong.

    My suggestion would be for Kenny Dalglish to step in as caretaker manager until next season, because something needs to happen to inspire the players into a winning mentality and he would be the perfect figurehead for that.

  • Comment number 72.

    I backed Benitez until the Portsmouth game, even though we are playing the worst football I can remember since Houllier's dying days, and possibly in the 30 years I've been a suppporter. As a club we haven't played good football since Roy Evans was manager, except for a three month period at end of last season when we were brilliant. It's easy to suggest luck, or overperforming, but we were consistently excellent in those three months. If the CL hadn't been won in 2005, we'd never have waited that long for Benitez to produce just three months of good football. Every liverpool fan keeps waiting for this side to play like Rafa's Valencia team that absolutely annihilated Liverpool under Houllier. But it's not going to happen. Fact is Rafa plays negative defensive football, he has favourites - Lucas, Insua, Kuyt - who are clearly not up to this level. Other players who are quality are looking at these same substandard players being picked week in week out, and don't think it doesn't break Gerrard's heart to be up front with Torres, waiting for lucas or mascherano to play a killer pass!. A new manager would have this team (below) to pick as his first 11 and it's a top four side. Rafa could pick it too but he's too stubborn, and has evidently lost the dressing room. This should be the new manager's team:

    Reina
    Johnson - Carra - Agger - Aurelio
    Gerrard Mascherano
    Rodriquez Aquillani Bennayoun
    Torres

  • Comment number 73.

    i have been saying this for a long long long time

    WHY THE HECK DOES HE PLAY DIRK KUYT!!!!

    its like playing with one less player in your team

    he offers nothing going forward!!
    he passes backwards, sidewards but rarely forward!!
    he has no pace, he never takes on a player!!
    he has no skill, just one dimensional

    the goals he does score are either given to him on a plate or he scuff them as someone said earlier on!!!

    its frustrating that he gets given 90 mins week in week out and someone like babel or benayoun isnt

    yes i know you're thinking babel is crap but the fact is, he has not been given a run of 3 games since he has been at the club

    wouldnt that pi$$ you off as a player..

    rafa has weird weird ways of running a football club, he seems to think hes a cut above everyone else

    when a liverpool player is injured, you never really know if he is really injured or not... look how long it took for him to put aquilani in the team when he was fit

    if hes fit bloody play him!!

    also his substitutions are the poorest ive ever ever seen

    the way he takes off a player just so he can get recognition for taking him off in the end, ALWAYS backfires in his face as liverpool have gone on to lose or draw the game they were winning when they had that player on the pitch. IF SOMEONE IS FIT play him for 90 mins

    atleast with wenger and fergie, you know if a injured player is really injured, he will not play, if hes fit, he will play

    the way he treated players like robbie keane, crouch, pennant..

    im sure if them three were still in the team, wouldnt you think wow liverpool's attact is pretty decent

    but who do they have now, torres and ngog. its pathetic

    the man is ruining your great club and has done nothing in 5 years

    two finals won on penalties you've given him a job for life

  • Comment number 74.

    Phil - well said and for once a coherent string of comments following on from your blog. There seems to be consensus - he has to go. I agree with the sentiments expressed, but will add a couple of additional thoughts:

    1. The title has been there for the taking. Chels, Man U and Arsenal have all frittered away points like confetti this season; none of these three sides are currently of a standard of the Man U, Chels and Arsenal sides which have taken the last 6 titles. It was there for Liverpool to grasp this season and oh how they have failed.
    2. Given this, I cannot understand how the Rafaistas are clinging to him and buying his pitch that finishing 4th would represent some kind of victory. Unbelievable.
    3. Gerrard looks like a broken man in spirit and body and last night's further strains for him and Torres would seem to suggest that neither will play every/most games between now and May. As such, Liverpool need to wake up and smell the coffee: the odds are against them finishing 4th. It will cost them less to sack Rafa than it will to finish 5th. With that in mind, look over to Eastlands - Mancini has come in, galvanised the side and got them winning again. It hurts to change Managers, it carries an admission of failure and a financial penalty, but what they need is someone who can come in and inject some life, energy and ideas into a team which is sinking, just as Mamcini has done this year and as Hiddink did last year.

  • Comment number 75.

    Ah the beauty of the FA Cup, I have to take my hat off to Reading as many Premiership clubs would not have gone after Liverpool as the Royal did last night.
    Benitez is clueless as a Manager and history can demonstrate this with the continued failure within the transfer market. I just wonder how the chap across Stanley Park, remember the "Small Club" would have performed given the same funding.
    Talking of funding, if the Liverpool board are to remove him from post could they afford the pay off??
    Home grown works and Liverpool (Benitez) has lost the plot!!!

  • Comment number 76.

    I seriously doubted Lucas had the quality also but this season he has been a revelation in a sea of mediocrity. The problem lies in picking players who are unfit, regularly telling the press that these players are the be all and end all, and picking disruptive ineffective players like Babel. Last night, Reading were given confidence because Liverpool consistently took the wrong opption of coming inside from wide positions instead of going past the last defender and crossing the ball dangerously into the box. Whenever Liverpool threatedned it was because of good work along the wings. But way too often players were cutting in and running into trouble or trying to thread through the eye of a needle by playing through the middle when getting absolutely no joy. Reading thoroughly deserved their victory. When Liverpool had that great spell at the start of the second half, controlling the game for 30 mins, the were not many chances created. Pacheco would have been a much better bet than Babel, more intelligent, better control and works the line much better. Rafa won't go because Liverpool can't afford to sack him but if he wants to keep his job then he has to realise that some of these players are simply not good enough and get rid either this Jan or this summer and completely revamp the whole swuad. defensively it may be time for Ayala to get a decent run in the side; a bit of height to ease Liverpool's weakness at the back.


    http://bigmatchcentre.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 77.

    As an Everton fan I am enjoying this as it is the only thing making our own dismal season palatable.

    Rafa is a European manager i.e. coach. His main problem has been his signings. If he had a director of football like most european teams to buy him the players then he might do ok. He has always been good at planning for the big matches and as a coach. Without the responsibility of choosing players to buy he may again flourish.

  • Comment number 78.

    Benitez doesn't seem equipped for the English system, where transfer purchases are decided almost entirely by the manager on his own.

    On the continent, these decisions are not one-man calls, they are more collegiate - a decision is reached collectively by the coach, the directors, the scouts and the technical staff.

    Rafa could be a success under that system. But not the under English system.

  • Comment number 79.

    I have posted the same point on these boards what seems like countless times, but the reason Benitez HAS to go is the waste of money players he has so obviously brought in. The following link details all the players he has been in charge of in his tenure.

    http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=249365.0

    Clearly, if there is 50-60 players signed there, I can think of only 5 that can realistically be called a good signing (Torres, Alonso, Reina, Mascherano and Crouch (being very generous there)) What I want Liverpool fans to clear up is, why despite the point above (and the few I'll list below) is he still at the club and why do you think he is going to do anything other than drag you further down:

    - He won the Champions League (after an absolute fluke) with Houlliers team
    - You managed to lose only twice all season, scoring most and conceding fewest, but STILL didnt win the league
    - You got to another CL final (after a goal v Chelsea that wasnt) and got absolutely demolished with his team (surely that was a sign he wasnt good enough?)
    - Your 3 backup strikers (Ngog, Voronin, El Zhar) are probably the worst in the league. I would definitely rather have, for example, Kitson, Tuncay and Beattie!!
    - He signed Lucas Leiva.

    Answers appreciated.

  • Comment number 80.

    If we sack rafa then would have to be roy hodgson or mourinho.

  • Comment number 81.

    I used to have some sympathy for Benitez particularly during his spat with Ferguson but I can find little to comfort him now. His selection policy has been a complete shambles for the best part of two seasons even if Liverpool look like world beaters on occasion, particularly when Torres is fit. I would love to know what he writes down on his notepad during the 90mins as it obviously hasn't assisted him thus far. Perhaps he should get a Twitter account and let the fans have some input! I know this will upset the Scousers but Gerrard seems far from committed to Liverpool and if it wasn't for the threats and general abuse from The Reds fans a few years back then he would be running around Stamford Bridge with Lampard & Co. I sincerely hope this doesn't happen but Gerrard is an individual and not a team player. As he is at the prime of his career a move in the summer would not surprise in order that he can furnish his trophy cabinet in future years.

  • Comment number 82.

    i heard benitez will be slowing easing maxi rodriguez into the first team ready for action in 2010-2011 season

    a la aquilani

  • Comment number 83.

    someone made a good point yesterday that we'll be hearing a lot of the number 18 and 5 in the coming days lol

  • Comment number 84.

    Phil, a big factor that i haven't heard is the selling of Sami hyypia as a significant loss for the team hits year. Remember this guy played 15 league games and how many did he lose? He was a massive figure at the club. The Alonso card is massive too. I said at the start of the season that Alonso would be a greater loss to the liverpool team than Ronaldo would be to Man Utd

  • Comment number 85.

    Ldeft back is a major issue for Liverpool. Insua is just not good enough; too slow, constantly out of position, poor distributor and easily outthought - Aurelio would be a much safer bet until we can get a better left back. Plenty of teams in La Liga would snap up Insua for a tidy fee giving Liverpool a handsome profit on the player. Riera (despite some people's misgivings on here) is sorely missed. He obviously gave Insua a much needed shield last season and has been missed this as he is the only player who really gets to the byline and crosses. Shame he has been injured.


    http://bigmatchcentre.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 86.

    Phil McNulty is like the MET Office. Makes incredibly inaccurate predictions then covers it up by writing wasteful articles that state the bleeding obvious.

  • Comment number 87.

    Can we all (especially those who go on about the "Rafalution" or "in Rafa we trust") agree that he needs to go? An absolutely terrible man manager who seems to bring out the very worst in his players, a hopeless evaluator of talent, and a pretty average tactician. They have won nothing in four years, will win nothing this season, Aquilani looks to be one of the worst buys in football history, and they just lost, at home, to a team struggling in the Championship. Can anyone give one reason Benitez shouldn't be fired?

  • Comment number 88.

    What is all this discussion about the (in)adequacy of Lucas, Insua and other individuals? Ditto for the relative merits of Hughes, Hiddink, et al. And the players insulting the fans by their performance? Hold on a minute!

    The real insult to the Liverpool fans was not so much the performance of the team, but continued anally retentive command of a highly paid journeyman who effectively engineered that performance. Sure, the players have to perform, but these players are bought, picked and coached by Benitez. Having spent squillions over the past five and a half years on the most bloated premiership squad, while continuously recycling half-decent players into the premiership etc, and releasing young players and academy breakthroughs to flourish in "lesser teams" under "mediocre managers", this Liverpool team is a true reflection of it's manager: clueless and out of their depth, despite being carried by the massive talents of Gerrard and Torres.

    Benitez's post match comments last night were not the cleverly oblique musings of a sage, or the evasive eloquence of the master tactician. They were the disjointed ramblings of a man who doesn't actually understand what is going on never mind what to do about it. £20m may be a bargain to get rid of the malevolent influence that Benitez has now become to players and club. Who, as a caretaker, could be worse? There needs to be a real shake-up if this season is not to become the norm.

    It breaks my heart as a lifelong Liverpool fan (and ctritic of Benitiz for 4.5 years) but perhaps the best thing now would be finish the year out at mid-lower table mediocrity to really jolt the club into action, while letting Stevie Gerrard to go to Milan, Madrid or similar where he will flourish in a tactically astute squad with intelligent leadership, so that he can at least maintain/develop his talent for the England set-up.

  • Comment number 89.

    Whilst I agree with you that one player doesn't make a team i think it's pretty obvious that both Liverpool and Man Utd have been hit hard by the losses of Alonso and Ronaldo. In my opinion, the loss of Alonso to Liverpool in particular was huge as everything went through him. The likes of Gerrard and Torres always got the goals and quite rightly took the plaudits, but you can see now that without Alonso behind them pulling the strings they are having to cover so much more ground, with Gerrard in particular reluctant to get forward for fear of the rest of the team being caught out behind him. Like Gerrard and Torres, Ronaldo used to win games for Utd with a bit of magic but the reason Man Utd are looking so lacklusture at the moment, again in my opinion, is because Paul Scholes just isn't the player he used to be. Like Alonso, he pulled the strings for Man Utd and unless Fergie replaces him with a genuine World Class performer, Utd will flounder just as Liverpool appear to be without someone in the middle of the park dictating the play.

  • Comment number 90.

    I wonder what the long term future is for Liverpool?

    When they were at their peak the city of Liverpool had, what, 650,000 people? Maybe more in the early 1960's when they began their assault on the football world.

    Now Liverpool has what? 450,000.

    Less than Bristol. Or about the same.

    And the population of Bristol continues to grow.

    Whilst that of Liverpool continues to decline.

    In the future, will a city of under 400,000 support a footballing giant? Bigger teams from bigger cities might push in. In fact they are doing.

    Maybe the glory days will never return to Liverpool because the
    demographics have changed things for good?

    Just a thought.



  • Comment number 91.

    Ah. How football has changed. Such an over-reaction after one game??

    Judge him and indeed any other manager at the end of the season.


  • Comment number 92.

    No matter the best possible advice he might get from his die-hard supporters, its time Benitez quit. Thats the only honorable under these impossible and humiliating circumstances.

  • Comment number 93.

    I was watching the game on TV, with my staunchly Red mate on the phone... his words before kick-off... "Oh for ****'s sake, Dowd... we'll get nothing out of him!"

    He was dead right.

    First Dowd books Degen for simulation, clearly mouthing the words "Not on MY watch!" as he waved the yellow... despite Degan actually getting his toes trodden on and deciding "That's enough contact" before going down.

    And yet in similar circumstances in the last minute of 'added on', he blows for a Reading penalty?

    Mills in the 2nd minute clatters Torres, and knocks him into the air!... right in front of the ref... and nothing given, immeadiately. After play breaks down, he gets a "stern talking to" but no card. I'm a Man City fan, and theoretically neutral, but I have to agree Dowds performance looked suspect.

    Liverpool WERE bad last night, but they were still JUST good enough to have despatched Reading, if the Ref had been even-handed.

    But that's not to say Benitez hasn't got some serious questions to answer... amongst them, why are Kuyt, Insua and Babel playing? Insua's not mature enough and Aurelio is a better choice at left back. Babel's just not interested. Kuyt's loss of form is apocolyptic! There's no width, no direction, no ideas. Just knock it backwards and sideways for 5 minutes before losing it in midfield or banging it upfield into massed defenders.

    A poor display, indeed.

  • Comment number 94.

    Sooner or later Benitez will have to retract his "guarantee" of a top four finish and admit that they are in a (very tight) competition for a Europa Cup place next season. Cue the exit of Torres and (probably) Gerrard as he wants CL games. And LFC will need the cash from selling these two to compensate for the lack of CL money next season.
    I sincerely hope Liverpool keep him as manager. He obviously cannot motivate his players who have been turned over by Portsmouth (bottom of the Premier Division) and Reading (in the relegation zone of the Championship). He has not got a clue about buying and using players (he bought Keane and obviously did not know what to do with him; he bought Bellamy and did not let him do the job he undoubtedly does well).
    With a clown like him in charge, next season will be a perpetual rerun of the last 75 minutes of yesterday's game (when Torres and Gerrard were off) - a club placed in the lower half of the middle third of the division who will not win anything and always in danger of getting sucked into the bottom third.
    Sadly, getting rid of Benitez is simple and relatively inexpensive. Relieve him of his duties and carry on paying his salary until he gets another job. I doubt very much that he will sit on his backside and see the contract out as that would be the end of him in football.

  • Comment number 95.

    Phil McNulty / Phil Thompson both made the bold prediction that liverpool will win the league and that Arsenal were most at risk of dropping out of the top 4 - how wrong could you be?

    Liverpool were completely outplayed over 2 legs by a struggling championship team! Ngog / Lucas wouldnt get into the West Ham starting 11 and certainly nobody in the top half of the table would want them

    surely Rafa has got to go! - its pretty much the same team as last season swap alonso for a 23mil player so the only reason i can see for liverpools downfall is that the players arent confident in the manager!

  • Comment number 96.

    #68 - do u honestly think that if Liverpool MADE 20 million out of sacking Benitez they wouldn't have done it already?

    #73 I agree, kuyt has always been like dog on roller skates out on the right wing...Benitez has tried (and to some extent got away with it...until this season) to fit kuyt in on right mid to cover the fact that he was signed as a striker, but wasn't quick enough to be successful in that position in the premiership.

    as for the match...well it was very disappointing...it was a dive for the penalty but in the context of liverpools season it seems petty to dwell on such things.

    I thought to myself last night that there are now some deeply worrying similarities (in terms of the ambience of the team) and the end of houllier's reign.

    I had thought until last night that liverpool would come on strong in the second half of the season but the sight of torres and gerrard limping off yet again makes it hard to believe that at the moment.

    Finally, going back to the similarities with the fall of houllier, it made me think of the way owen left liverpool. He was heavily criticised for leaving on a reduced fee (and i can understand why liverpool fans have a grudge) but I can remember thinking that one of the reasons owen probably left liverpool for was that he was sick and tired of houllier and his broken promises. I wonder if gerrard could be feeling the same way right now.

  • Comment number 97.

    Completely agree with this piece. It feels so like the death throes of the Houllier era - and thinking back to the squad and starting 11 that Rafa inherited, is the starting 11 and squad any stronger now? Surely that's the acid test of his regime? Luck evens itself out - Liverpool scored a lot of late goals last year. Two leaders left in the summer and weren't properly replaced - Alonso and Hyppia. Also, Keane and Pennant (not a world beater, but MOTM in 2nd Champs League final) left and weren't replaced, depleting the squad in terms of sheer numbers. Dalglish and Lee to see through to end of season. What do people think of Martin Jol as a possible replacement come the summer?

  • Comment number 98.

    WHY ON EARTH HAS NOBODY MENTIONED STRIKERS??!

    Fact: The only capable striker that Liverpool have is Torres.

    Fact: This is because after Benitez splashed out on Keane without thinking about how he would fit into his system, and it failed, he now remains convinced that you can compete for four major trophies over the course of a season with one option - Gerrard just behind Torres.

    Fact: Ngog is absolutely useless and, while there may be a glimmer of potential for the future, he's not anywhere near ready to be anyone's second-choice striker, let alone a club like Liverpool's. I'm refusing to count Kuyt as a striker in this debate as Benitez seems to think he's now a wide player.

    Fact: Liverpool's competitors all have at least two, probably three world-class strikers. United have Rooney, Berbatov and Owen (with Macheda as back-up). Arsenal have Van Persie, Eduardo and Bendtner (with Vela as back-up). Chelsea have Drogba, Anelka and Kalou (with Sturridge as back-up). Liverpool have...Torres and Ngog (with nobody else to call on if they're both injured).

    Fact: Strikers score goals. Goals win games. Some say Torres is better on his own up front, that's fine, but when he's injured then Ngog can't step up to the mark! And Spain don't seem to have a problem playing two up top, with Villa playing off Torres to frightening effect.

  • Comment number 99.

    Lucas poor
    Kuyt poor
    Ngog poor
    Babel poor
    Insua poor
    Carragher poor

    anyone who blames Benitez please reply to the above!

  • Comment number 100.

    30. At 08:42am on 14 Jan 2010, Giggs' Left Peg wrote:
    I find it quite amusing how Man Utd and Liverpools fortunes are so similar this season.
    ------------------------------------------------------------
    I find it quite amusing how anyone in their right mind could have written this, United are still in Champions league Semi finals carling cup, second in the league, how does that seem similar to Liverpool? Wow.

 

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