What is Rafa Benitez playing at? Liverpool have had a nightmare January and from being out in front, now find themselves back amongst their rivals in third place, having dropped 6 points in the last 3 league games. Comparing their performances in the Premiership since their emphatic win at Newcastle on December 28th, they seem like a different team. Gone is the attacking zest and vigour we saw in the game at St James’ Park, replaced with a caution and fear of losing that is destroying their attempt to win a first league title in 18 seasons. Just what is the manager playing at? Now I know that tactically, Benitez is in essence, a cautious manager but the performance against Wigan Athletic looked like a team treading water. Sure, Gerrard and Benayoun had chance to put the game out of Wigan’s reach but they didn’t stick the chances away and left Wigan with a fighting chance. The challenge made by Lucas was suicidal, desperately chasing back to cover his defenders who had gone walkabout, fooled in to sticking a leg in when the ball was away and past him, with Koumas selling him a lovely feint and allowing Mido to score on his debut from the penalty spot. There’s no argument it was a cast iron penalty, but then to compound the issue, the manager takes Gerrard off and replaces him with Robbie Keane. Do you want to win the league or not Rafa?
You’ve just conceded a late equaliser, Manchester United have smashed W.B.A the night before 5-0, all your rivals are closing in and you take your best player off? Why on earth not keep him on to try and push on for the win, United would never take off Ronaldo in the same situation, neither would Chelsea with Lampard. After the game, Benitez said Gerrard was tired, but there was only 7 minutes left, was it to save him for Sundays clash against Chelsea? Lampard played the full game for Chelsea and Scolari had more of a case for saving his legs, with the game won againt Middlesbrough but he kept him on until the final whistle.
The post match press conference seems to compound Benitez’s problems, Liverpool are playing badly but it’s nothing to do with him. “It was a crazy half”, what was crazy about it? “I don’t wan’t to say”. “It has happened in the last three games and they have something in common that I don’t like.” What on earth is he going on about? Opponents tactics? Referee’s not giving them as many dodgy decisions as they’re used to? The idea of the game is to beat your opponents using skill and tactical nous, not bore them to death and diving around to win free kicks and penalties. I’m sorry Rafa, but it’s everything to do with you and the side and tactics you choose. Taking Torres off and replacing him with a left winger to play up front with Babel was a nonsense decision, to then take Gerrard off and replace him with Keane was another. Scared to over commit but chasing the game, Liverpool could have easily lost it had Rodallega’s free kick been a couple of inches lower. Dreadful against Stoke, poor against “small club” Everton and then another inept display yesterday has seen the advantage in the Premiership race move away from Liverpool and over to Manchester United, even Chelsea and Aston Villa could all push Liverpool down to 4th.
Liverpool have played 7 Premiership games from December 13th:
- Won 2 and Drawn 5 (11 points)
- Scored 13 goals and conceded 6 (8 of their goals scored came in the two wins against Bolton and Newcastle United)
- 2 Additional matches in the FA Cup so far, scoring 3 and conceding 1, with a replay to come at Goodison next week
Manchester United have also played 7 Premier League games in the same period
- Won 6 and drawn 1 (19pts)
- Scored 12 goals and conceded 0
- Played 6 additional matches in 3 other competitions in the same period, 2 League Cup Semi Finals, A Semi Final and Final in the World Club Cup and 2 matches in the FA Cup.
Now if that doesn’t tell you that the power has reverted back to Manchester United nothing else will. United also still have the game in hand and if Liverpool lose on Sunday against Chelsea, they can forget any title aspirations for another year and will have wasted their best chance in over a decade. But in Benitez’s mind it won’t be his fault, it’ll be Manchester United’s, the referee’s, small clubs, Halley’s Comet, Rick Parry’s and Liverpool’s owners and that’s why the title challenge is crumbling. Benitez refuses to believe it is anything to do with him. Negative tactics, unneccessary squad rotation and stupid substitions are the reason United and Chelsea have overtook Liverpool, Aston Villa are now a point behind them. Earlier this month I commented that Ferguson had no need to fire his players up in the aftermath of the Benitez’s comments to the press about the bias shown towards United, clearly forgetting the shocking decisions Liverpool get in their favour, especially at Anfield. On current form, Liverpool will do well to finish the season in 4th and the only person to blame will be Benitez.