I have deliberately held off cussing Benitez or reviewing Liverpool's past performances until the end of the Chelsea game, as they were three vital games that will go on to prove the turning point in yet another disappointing season for Liverpool under the management of Rafa Benitez and co. It isn't so much as the defeats which prolong the pain but the manner of those defeats against Reading, Manchester United and now Chelsea which prevails me to demand the immediate resignation or sacking of Benny.
The win in Marseille, proved we can raise our game and play lovely football when required but I attended that game and having got off to the perfect start, with the penalty, the rest of the game petered into a farce as none of the Marseille players turned up that night. We eventually ran out easy 0-4 winners and progressed to the knock-out stages of the CL, without any of our players hitting top notch form.
What followed was the debacle against Manchester United where we failed to stamp any authority in the game that was, for Liverpool fans a huge indication of whether we are capable of mounting a serious challenge for the premiership. We followed that up by losing to a make shift Chelsea team 0-2, in the 1/4 finals of the League cup.
Both games proved we lack the mental toughness in the big games and for Benitez not to either recognise that or implement something to counter it, shows again he is not up to the task of delivering that elusive first title in eighteen years. Benitez's record against Chelsea, Arsenal and Man U is attrocious. Something like 3 wins in 21matches says it all. In games where we won easily (Derby, Newcastle, Besiktas, Marseille) those teams were poor and yet we still missed at hat-full of chances. And being clinical is what seperates the really top teams to those who remain challenging, giving their supporters endless heart attacks along the way, while spouting the Liverpool mantra "We're ready for the league title this season" like a old time Perry Como record. Livepool have always retained the ball well, but it's in the final third against top class opposition that we are found wanting. Tactics, which Benitez has had three years to put right.
There is very little creativity in our team play or alternative ways of breaking down teams who resort to playing nine men behind the ball. Our wingers, especially Kewell are not able to go past a player and open up defences or deliver enough telling crosses for Torres therefore leaving Torres to manufacture many of his own goals. (Over the top, a bit of skill and pace to get away) I don't want to sound harsh on Babel as he has been one of the bright spark's to the season, and he has enabled many Liverpool fans to ever wonder what was good about Jermaine Pennant. Give Babel a year and he could be up there with Ronaldo and co. For your team to be serious title contender's, you need a 20 goal a season striker and two midfield players getting into double figures. It's the defence which is the issue. For so long JC has been the corner stay of Liverpool, but he is a typical British centre half, able to put his body on the line to compensate for having any quality or technical ability. Put him aside Sami Hyppia and we are just asking for trouble against teams with pace. They've even got a solution on the PES 2007 to combat that, so how Benitez does not buy another centre half, is beyond my small degree of intelligence.
And what is it with Voronin? He looks really good playing for Ukraine, but appears a shadow of the player when pulling on the red shirt of Liverpool. His mediocre tally of two goals tells a more worrying story. The same could be said of John Arne Riise, Mohamed Sissoko and Dirk Kuyt. I believe we have too many squad players and not enough class. When it gel's, it and we look good, but like mutton dressed as lamb, when faced with something of class, we stand out like Britney Spears with knickers on. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe we have a team capable to mount a realistic challenge, but it's as though the players are afraid to express themselves and that can only be down to the manager.
I've had enough of my Chelsea, Arsenal and Man U friends giving me stick for our so-called "challenge". What fucking challenge?? It was over the day you decided to remove the 'big three' against Reading to save them for the crunch game against Marseille, three days later. Not only did we go on to lose against Reading, a team who are more negative than Middlesborough (and that's saying something) but the defeat opened a gap, which meant the Man U game was massive. We went into that game on confidence, with goals behind us and at home. Man U had no Neville, Scholes, Ronaldo and Rooney were largely ineffective and yet we could not stamp our authority on the game, dictated by the little Portuguese boy, Anderson. That game finally put to bed that Steve Gerrard is a complete midfield player. He was totally and technically dominated by Anderson in the first half and when Ferguson knew Liverpool would resort to plan B (the long ball, flick on tactic) Ferdinand and Vidic, earnt their pay packets for the week. Once and for all Steven Gerrard is a Hollywood footballer, interested only in Steven Gerrard, unable to lift his team or those around him and will ALWAYS look to 'spray' a 50 - 60 yard pass instead of a simple 10 yard pass to retain possesion. To say Van der Sar had a quiet games was an understatement. And to hear Benitez defend the indefenceible was akin to George Bush blaming the sun for global warming.
I recalled something amiss two seasons ago, when in a friendly pre season game against Wrexham, I noticed Benitez out of his seat in the first half. I didn't immediately think, what a good manager, displaying similar passion to that of his players. Rather the opposite. I thought, what top class manager is out of his seat within twenty minutes of sending out international players against third rate (no disrespect to Wrexham) bellowing instructions as though it was the Semi final of the champions league against Milan? It just didn't look right, as though Benitez instructions are either complicated or unclear. Three years on, I still feel this to be the case, as I will state matter of factly, the Liverpool squad and proper first 11 are better than Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal. All we lack is a mental toughness with some of the players, which if not careful will fester itself throughout and we'll end up out of the top four, beaten to the post by Manchester City and Everton. Oh perish the thought.
And yet, Benitez has the nerve to demand extra funding, for new players. What happened to the thirty odd players he bought since he came to the club, back in June 2004? I thought there could never be anyone similar to Houiller, who took the piss with our club, but matey, is either on the crack pipe or he's using our club like some kind of audition for the Apprentice. Failing in his personal gripe about money, he then launched an assault on the new American owners, who gave unconditional funding in the summer to strengthen the squad. The basic fact was that top players like Eto, Juninho (Lyon) Van der Vaat (Holland) etc will not join Liverpool while Benitez remain's in charge. They see him destroying the legacy people have spent 100+ years nurturing and developing, with his safety first and negative tactics. Switch on Eurosport and see the interviews those players give about they're love for the famous reds and it hurts man. Really hurts!
I lost faith in Benitez well before the Champions league final last year and his negative tactics against Mailan, in the most important game of the year, confirmed my worst fears in him as a top class manager - without the ability, nous or expertise to galvanise a sleeping giant. Granted in his first year he delivered the Champions League, but die hard Liverpool fans will swap that trophy every day of the week for the Premiership. For many of us, it's like when the wife makes you paella and it's nothing like you had on holiday in Spain. You do love her, but something's just not right.
I believe the only thing saving Benitez at the moment is who will take over the helm at Liverpool, in mid-season. Many top coaches are either still involved in the Champions League or challenging for the title in their respective countries. Personally I'd like to see Rikjard and not Mourinho, but whoever we get will have to take time and that is one thing Liverpool fans do not have. We are in a unique position, by being a big club but failing to win a league title. None of the top European clubs have had a streak this long. The league as Shanks and Paisley used to drill into their players, was your bread and butter. The Champions League is a brilliant competition but it has it's luck, like all cup competition's do. The league winners, have proved through thick and thin, through summer, rain, snow, suspensions, injuries etc, to deliver the holy grail in football.
A minimum of twelve points over xmas is a must if we are to keep in touch, but that will no doubt keep Benitez in his job and through the January sales, which in the long run, could well prove to be the stability the new manager will require in the summer of 2008. I hope I am wrong, but I am sick and tired of seeing many of our players fail to deliver against the top sides, while us die hard fans suffer the nonsense portrayed by our manager akin to George Bush justifying why he is the best leader in the world.