One does not want to over-egg the pudding, but there is a crisis going on at Anfield. Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has seen his side lose their last three games, away at Fiorentina, Chelsea and Sunderland and while many Reds fans may prefer to bury their head in the sand over the stark fate of their club, this looks like it could well be the season when Liverpool’s failings, so often espoused by “sensationalist” critics over the past few years, come home to roost.
Set against the backdrop of the neverending battle between supporters and chairmen for what they perceive to be the best direction of the club, with protagonist George Gillett seemingly ready to jump ship back to America leaving the club deep in debt, but having made a tidy profit personally, the current lack of form for Liverpool could not have come at a worse time. Defeat at Sunderland was their fourth in nine league games. In thirty-eight games last season, Liverpool suffered two defeats and whilst it is a little early to say their title dreams are over for this season, it is fair to say that this week will make or break their season. Nothing short of two wins from their home games against Lyon in the Champions League on Tuesday and in the Premiership against league leaders Manchester United at the weekend, will be enough to give them any hope of progressing in either of the two major competitions this season.
So what is contributing to the crisis? As hard as reds fans to read it is simple.
1. The Boardroom – It all starts here. Gillett and Hicks have a volatile relationship with the manager and the clubs fans. When you know your owners want out and have reneged on promises in the past, it is never going to promote a healthy atmosphere in the club. The Reds faithful like to lay all the blame at the feet of their chairmen, but is that really the case?
2. Over-reliance on Gerrard and Torres : “A two man team” is often the criticism levelled at Liverpool. The players who have had the chance to prove that assertion wrong at the weekend have failed. There is no doubting the notion that take Gerrard and Torres out of the Liverpool side and what you are left with is a very, very ordinary team.
3. Alonso out, Aquilani in : While I don’t blame Benitez for the sale of Alonso, as good as the Spaniard was for Liverpool, I do feel it was then foolhardy to spend £20m on an injury prone, and currently injured, Italian replacement who is not likely to be available until November. Short of Aquilani coming in and leading Liverpool unbeaten through the rest of the season, this looks like being a poor piece of judgement from the manager. Not in terms of the Italian’s ability, but simply in terms of the fact that he has left the club woefully short of quality cover in midfield for almost three months of the season.
4. Form : Jamie Carragher has admitted he isn’t playing well, but he isn’t alone. Ryan Babel brings a whole new dimension to the word erratic. Mascherano looks tired and has the appearance of a man wishing he was sitting along Xavi and Iniesta in midfield as opposed to Lucas and Jay Spearing. Riera flatters to deceive. Kuyt is wonderfully willing but not a right winger in the sense of someone like Cristiano Ronaldo, Aaron Lennon or Theo Walcott. A handful of Liverpool players can say they are playing well. That isn’t enough, not at Premier League level.
5. No Plan B. Gerrard and Torres out? Well, we can turn to…erm…David N’Gog and Jay Spearing. Young and talented they may be, but let us not kid ourselves. A quick glance at the benches of Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd or indeed any of the top sides reveals quality international players to turn to if things don’t work out. For Liverpool, Gerrard and Torres (occasionally Johnson or Benayoun too) have to do it because nobody else will.
6. Finance & Transfer deals : Liverpool aren’t as well off as other top sides, but lets look at what they have spent in recent times. Does the money spent on Lucas, Babel, Riera, Dossena, Voronin or even Aquilani look well spent? That is nearly £50m worth of talent. In the same time, Liverpool have sold “flops” like Craig Bellamy and Peter Crouch.
So the beachball excuse is a novel one, but like the ball itself, is full of hot air. Liverpool are poor at the moment for many reasons. Gerrard and Torres paper over the cracks but the problems lie in the foundations of the club and until this is resolved, then Liverpool are going to find it very difficult to remain at the top of English and European soccer.
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