Liverpool’s Title Chances On The Brink
Three weeks is a long time in football and Liverpool must be wondering why there season is beginning to splutter just when they needed to kick on. The game against Newcastle United on December 28th easily saw Liverpool’s best performance of the season so far, completely ripping the Geordie’s apart at will. If it wasn’t for Shay Given, it could have and perhaps should have been 8 or 9 goals for the Reds that day. Since then, it’s all beginning to look a little rocky at Anfield. I wouldn’t worry about the contract issue with Benitez, though I am surprised that someone has once again leaked information to the press,The Gerrard situation on the night of the game was unhelpful, then the tough away fixture in the FA Cup at Preston certainly wouldn’t have helped but then we had two key incidents that seem to have destabilised their title challenge.
Firstly, the press conference that Benitez held on the Friday before the Stoke City game. Whilst no-one doubts what he said to be true, a lot of fans agree with the crux of the point he was trying to make, it was the timing that surprised everyone to be honest. Why try and engage Ferguson in mind games so early in the proceedings? Apparently Ferguson had wound up Benitez by saying he doubted that Liverpool had the experience to last the distance. What’s wrong with that? He’s completely right, no major player in the current Liverpool side has won the Premiership, so what if they’ve won a couple of cups under Benitez, cup games have no bearing on League matches at all. They do lack the experience of holding on to a leading position as the season draws to a conclusion. The last time they were in with a chance of winning the league, Liverpool were top at Christmas 1996. They ended up finishing 4th on goal difference, 7 points behind…. Manchester United.
Looking back, it seemed that Benitez was trying to move the pressure back on to Manchester United to win there games in hand and the match officials to make sure Ferguson’s side didn’t receive any favourable decisions in the big game against Chelsea. Unfortunately, the referee and his assistants were probably the only reason United didn’t get 6 past a easily outplayed Chelsea side and it looked like Benitez’s plea to the officials wasn’t needed. Chelsea didn’t turn up and in the end it was too easy for United.
What compounded the United scoreline though was Liverpool’s dreadful display the day before at Stoke City, regardless of Gerrard’s missed chance towards the end. If anything, Liverpool’s abject and inept performance became the catalyst for United to think, “We’ve caught them”. They knew that by winning the first of their games in hand against Wigan Athletic would leave them two points behind and the chance to go above Liverpool before they had the Merseyside derby tonight. For Liverpool to go to Stoke City, with no game for 8 days afterwards and rest Torres and Keane showed a lack of bottle on the managers part. Instead of going into the game wanting to win, Liverpool were set up not to lose and that’s the crucial difference between Manchester United and Liverpool and the main reason why Liverpool could see the Premiership title slip from their grasp. When United played there, they went with just after flying half way round the world after winning the World Club Cup and pushed for a winning goal.
The timing of Benitez’s outburst couldn’t have come at a worse time, Ferguson now has no need to get his players ready for the forthcoming matches, the comments were like a red rag to the old guard at Manchester United, if there was one thing that the squad didn’t needed, it was a reminder that they could break the hearts of thousands of Liverpool fans by simply winning games. As the saying goes, “No-one wins the League at Christmas”and Manchester United know better than most just how prophetic that is. Benitez and Liverpool could end up with a large amount of egg on their faces come May 24th at 6pm.