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Just Why Are Liverpool Still Losing?


Almost everything is going wrong for Liverpool. I say ‘almost’, because last week they beat Manchester United at Anfield, and the gloom was temporarily lifted. “Liverpool have turned a corner… This will kick-start their season… etc” in the end, it hasn’t. Liverpool’s continued struggles share similarities with those of the aforementioned United in the 2004-05 season, where, after an awful start to the season, a victory against Big Rivals (in that case, Arsenal) threatened to send the Old Trafford club on a march back to glory. It didn’t. The next match was a defeat at Portsmouth. Right back to square one. United ultimately finished third. A similar fate to United’s at Fratton Park awaited Liverpool on Saturday. After the giddy hope of redemption last Sunday, soon came the ignominious crash back to earth.

One of the reasons for Liverpool’s hideous run has been, if you believe large sections of their supporters, the owners – George Gillett and Tom Hicks – whose ‘holding the club to ransom’ through the medium of crippling debts has meant that Rafael Benitez’s transfer budgets have been lower than those of other, clubs of similar stature in England. This viewpoint is not an unreasonable conclusion considering Liverpool’s net expenditure in comparison to previous years – from the £39m net splurge of season 2007-08, and the subsequent drop off (£6.25m last year, £950,000 this), but compared to their Big Four rivals, Liverpool’s expenditure this year has been the second highest. The figures are skewed by Manchester City and Real Madrid’s domination of the market this summer, but having sold Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa for £33.5m, and with Benitez apparently having to sell before he can buy couldn’t Liverpool have benefited more from investing in a cheaper right back – especially with the bright prospect Martin Kelly, and the talented Philipp Degen in reserve – and therefore having the funds for a more reliable reserve striker?

A further problem for Liverpool has been their midfield. Following the departure of Alonso, his team has struggled to make use of possession as effectively – when Lucas does not have the space to move through the midfield as he had against United, he is unable to pass particularly incisively, and as he and Mascherano tend to pass the ball more sideways than looking behind the defence, a lot of Liverpool’s possession ends up out wide, at the door of either Dirk Kuyt – creatively limited – or Ryan Babel/Yossi Benayoun on the other flank, rather than the key players (Gerrard and Torres in the middle). Torres has been able to score more goals this year – attributing to the fact that he can move in between defenders when the ball is out wide, finding space in dangerous areas – but is not as involved in attacking moves. When Liverpool play well organised sides, their wide players have been unable to regularly create chances.

With their attack struggling, the defence has, for a variety of reasons, drifted aimlessly from shambles to shambles. Age seems to catching up with Jamie Carragher, his never extravagant pace has dwindled to the point where he is simply abysmal when turned. Bobby Zamora (twice) has joined the growing list of attackers to be hauled down by Carragher when in a foot race, and while he is still superb at timing tackles when faced one-on-one with his back to goal (the game against United proves this), he has become a liability in games where Liverpool are not defending from their own penalty area. Many have claimed that Carragher’s poor performances have come from not having a regular partner at the back, but standing next to the same man every week is not going to make him run any faster. Many tactical elements can be controlled, but pace (or lack thereof) in a defender makes life really difficult, especially in a team where winning games is crucial, and they have to defend high up the pitch.

Benitez, for his part, has admirably tried to right some of the wrongs of last season – too many stale draws against relatively poor sides damaged their title charge – and Liverpool have more intent (from the full back areas at least) to bomb on forward: explaining Glen Johnson’s exuberant performances against Stoke and Burnley, for example – but this process contradicts with Benitez’s controlling nature. He knows that his team is at its best when it has to go for positive results (Champions League escapes, comeback after comeback after comeback), yet this means that he has to play instinctive, creative players like Yossi Benayoun. The Israeli is a good player, and Benitez knows this, but his instinctive nature means that a controller like Benitez doesn’t know what he’s going to do, so when he changes to a new plan when they are in search of a goal, he takes Benayoun off, as his style can’t be measured or controlled. He doesn’t know what Benayoun is going to do, so he can’t trust him, so he is substituted for someone (possibly with pace) that Rafa can understand what to do with.

Liverpool’s failings have resulted also, to an extent, from luck. Remember the Beachball episode at Sunderland, for example? Furthermore, the two sending offs on Saturday (especially Degen’s) are not something that can be laid at Benitez’s door, surely. A catalogue (doesn’t seem an appropriate collective noun, that) of injuries also haven’t helped, and have kept Liverpool’s first choice XI off the field. They have had some good luck too mind, Carragher could have been sent off against United for hauling down Owen, and Lyon’s paucity of defensive options (they had no centre half on the pitch after Cris was injured) meant that they were there for the taking. The problem was, as it has been many times this season, that Liverpool didn’t have the options on the pitch to either force a victory, nor hold out for a draw.

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  1. Hayley

    November 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Poor Rafa, he is having a nightmare this season

  2. Baz

    November 3, 2009 at 7:47 am

    you guys are idiots, comparing him to mourinho, saying that mourinho had alll this money to spend

    last time i checked he won the champions league with porto

    oh yeh everything has just been handed to him on a silver platter

    rafa has nothing on mourinho

  3. roba

    November 3, 2009 at 5:27 am


  4. roba

    November 3, 2009 at 5:24 am

    i love manchester united

  5. scott

    November 2, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Here’s a breakdown of Rafa’s purchases & sales during his tenure at Anfield…tell me he hasn’t worked miracles with a budget that isn’t befitting a world class club.

  6. Hedi

    November 2, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Benitez bought too many players without positive result for team building during his reign at Anfield. The Spaniard doesn’t either have loyalty to players whom he brought into. Look at what happened to Luis Garcia, Robbie Keane and so on. Benitez bought them on early season and sold them on the close season. Shortly, Benitez is experimental manager….what a shame.

  7. Tyson

    November 2, 2009 at 12:51 am

    I think Benitez has been given the wrong job to do.

    As good as Liverpool are their mentality is much more about “lets beat Manchester United” than “lets win the league”.

    When you form a Premier League team you have 11 players and those 11 players have to be capable of beating not all the teams in the Premier League but most of them.

    Chelsea and Manchester United both have their weaknesses and are susceptible to certain types of play but both teams are built well enough to handle most of the problems they will encounter.

    Benitez on the other hand has tailor built a to beat Manchester United. The problem is Manchester United are 6 points a season.

    If Benitez is focused on beating Manchester United twice a year and has a team that is incapable of beating several other teams then he has practically entered into a petty grudge match that will get him no silverware just shallow bragging rights twice a year.

    When you build a football team you are basically trying to answer several questions with one answer. Benitez has built a team that can answer one difficult question(Manchester United) but fails to answer most other questions and they are losing too many points elsewhere to win the PL.

    It’s all tactics and smarts here and unfortunately Benitez has done the wrong job.

    • oliver

      November 2, 2009 at 9:39 am

      “As good as Liverpool are their mentality is much more about “lets beat Manchester United” than “lets win the league”.”

      I’m not sure their mentality is “lets beat Manchester United”, but they do only seem to pull out big wins in their “cup finals” (not literally a cup final, but a big match)

    • Gaz

      November 2, 2009 at 9:48 am

      I don’t think it’s that he is just built to beat Manchester United – I think Benitez is more of a “I can win the one, big, important game” kind of manager. This is why the feeling is that he is a Champion’s League Manager. It plays wells to managers, players, and teams that can step up to the one, big occasion. If I had to take one manager for one, big game, it would be Benitez over many of the other top managers.

      Problem is he has trouble when trying to take that success and stretch it out for an entire season – this, to say the least, has been an issue for him. If you had to take one manager over the whole season, it looks like Benitez is shaping to be out of the top 4.

  8. WestDerbyRed

    November 1, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    name one manager who can turn the club around with the current injury list. its mission impossible right now. simple as.

    look at the amount of money given to chelski and ManUre are given for single player acquisitions.

    rafas only ever had similar luxuries with torres, aquilani and johnson… and look at the quality of those players. Il Pricipino came on for 15 mins vs arsenal and turned the game on its head single handedly. only the refs white stick prevented an arguably better outcome. cue arsenals 2nd goalkeeper Senderos.

    our cumulative spend consists of bargain basement players because of fatty and shorty’s duck’s ring policy.

    xabis departure has destroyed our team and aquilanis cameo highlighted that fact. A creative midfielder protects the back 4 and feeds the front men. less goals are conceded and more are scored. its not rocket science. btw, look at what xabi is achieving now… you owen-esque mug.

    ive not forgotten our other large purchase, robbie keane… just deliberately left him out for separate mention. for whatever reason he choked with a liverbird on his chest. the once ‘mr reliable ‘, ‘premierships most consistant goal machine’, ‘the irish savior’… bla bla bla… let us and himself down badly. ill never forget his inexplicable attempt at a backheel flick from a cross 1.3 millimeters in front of goal with the goalie marooned on the Lost island. rafas fault? hardly. but he had the balls to get rid before he further embarrassed us… and rightly so imho.

    weve turned from hoping to get into the top 4 to always being in the top 4 and now we’re talking about winning the title for the first time in years.

    i was stood on miurehead avenue as a sprog getting a two thumbs up from sammy lee, king kenny and brucie as the league cup went past on the open top bus during our glory years so im not one of the blind In Rafa We Trust cos he won the champions league brigade.

    i truly believe what hes done to transform our clubs structure has been markable given the tight arse money grabbing suits hes had to publically fight and equally i truly believe he is the right mafor the job in a long term project.

    you talk about the special one, Maureen, as if he did wonders at chelski. ffs, me aunty doreen could have done the same with that kind of spending power! and you reckon his incredible outbursts would make The Two Liars smile?

    Wenger hasnt delivered any silverware apart from wedding cutlery gifts for years and yet hes the professor! hes got a passion for young boys that was only equalled by the king of pop but what have they won? Why isnt he being sacked or slagged off?

    maybe cos he hasnt brought on the pressure of the realistic hope of success a la benitez.

    fergies pockets have been lined with gold since the glaziers heaped a nations debt on them and his bench is worth more than what you’ll find at the end of a rainbow.

    We’re having a crap month, granted, but with a fully fit squad and the little prince in the centre of the park we’ll give anyone, rich, very rich or very young a bloody good run for their money.

    then and only then can we fairly judge what rafa has done for our beloved team.

    ynwa and in rafa we truly trust.

    • Tyson

      November 2, 2009 at 12:55 am

      It was Rafa Benitez who screwed things up with Xabi Alonso.

      Xabi Alonso’s wife was pregnant and he refused to give him time with her so when the right moment came Xabi Alonso forced the move to Real Madrid.

      The man was incredibly happy at Liverpool too, he was a wonderful player for the team and worked incredibly hard every match. Last year he was one of your best players and was responsible for setting up a tidal wave of goals.

      Damn I mean if you take out everything Xabi was responsible for last year Liverpool would have been much worse off.

      Fact of the matter is Rafa Benitez doesn’t know what he is doing with players whether it is the Babel situation or the Robbie Keane and Xabi Alonso fiasco.

    • oliver

      November 2, 2009 at 9:37 am

      “the once ‘mr reliable ‘, ‘premierships most consistant goal machine’”

      Robbie Keane has never been the premierships most consistant goal machine. He’s averaged about 1 goal in 3 games… not to be sniffed at but not the 1 in 2 that the top strikers get

  9. California_Gooner

    November 1, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    When you have to Rely on Torres and Gerrard as much as Liverpool does it can really hurt them when they are not fit …. This team has PATHETIC depth and the team will finish outside the top 4 and Rafa won’t be at the Anfield next season….. he will probably end up taking over Madrid or something ..

    • Raatzie

      November 2, 2009 at 12:24 am

      Came to say this.

      Will add that their knockout stage ambitions end this week.

      Sammy Lee as caretaker? Dalglish as the EPL’s Joe Gibbs (hopefully more successful)?

      And who (Jose) to get (Mourinho) for next year (only happens under new, less austere ownership)?

  10. Scott

    November 1, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    It amazes me that everyone is railing against Rafa…he is being hamstrung by the debt and having to play for a CL spot because the club will be effed if it doesn’t get the CL money.

    Yes, LFC have huge ambitions. The fans expect to win the league…every season. But, that isn’t realistic. I’m a fan too…I’m also dying for THE trophy.

    But, give the gaffer a break. He’s had to totally revamp LFC’s developmental system. He’s brought in players who couldn’t/wouldn’t adjust to his system…those that have (e.g. Johnson, Torres) have excelled beyond expectations. And finally, he’s got owners that won’t allow him to do what he thinks needs to be done to be a real and consistent contender. He’s done a hell of a job in the face of massive challenges.

    Rafa’s had both of his hand’s tied behind his back and he’s done an amazing job. Is LFC having a craptastic season? Yes. Does it suck? Yes. But lay off the gaffer. If we lose Rafa we will not get anyone better…who’s gonna want to take on the problems we have?

    LFC for life…In Rafa I trust. YNWA!

    • CR7

      November 1, 2009 at 9:37 pm

      Hamstrung by debt?

      United has worse debt, and they’ve won the title the last three years.

      It’s Rafa’s fault plain and simple,

      • Laurence

        November 2, 2009 at 1:39 pm

        The debt hasn’t had the same ramifications on budget per-season though has it?

        • Shakira

          November 2, 2009 at 10:03 pm

          No but United are getting extra money from winning the league, the CL two years ago as well. If United were not winning trophies it would be the same problem at OT.

  11. Joe

    November 1, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Was any 1 surprised with the result against Fulham? We had so many quality players missing at the back and players who were given the chance didn’t know how to open up a Fulham team that was flooding the midfield. Ref had a poor game, but if we were a bit efficient, it would have made any difference. The game had all the signs of the 4-2 against Fulham sometime back when Alonso made his sub debut, but it was too bad that Aquilani was off with flu and could turned it around. I am still not sure why Rafa is not giving Pachecho any play time in the first team coz he really gets a lot of praise in the reserves game. As far as the title being lost, lets not kid ourselves. The owners are still interested in turning the corner with a budget and i really have to say that Rafa is doing a fantastic job. If we do win the title, the following year, we might not be able to spend on a single player and might end up very much worst than we are now. Our first team is almost at par with any other best teams in this country as well as Europe, but when it comes to even the bench, i don’t think there are more than 3 players who can play to their full potential. Babel might be an international but he is a flop. I would prefer Lucas anyday. Voronin really looks old and its about time we cash in. I think it won’t hurt to get Rafael V.V from RM in Jan to cover our midfield. The owners must be ready to accept the facts and cash in on the club now. And the decision on Rafa should be made by the new owners and not the fans nor the existing owners coz we are a much better side and it is only becasue of him.
    Every season, we always have a poor month, and this time around it came in October itself. Last Dec~Jan was our ‘ghost’ month where we could even buy a win. This time around, its losses all the way. It happens year in year out and i seriously don’t understand why. However, being 9 points behind with half of the first team out and also only 11 games into the season is much better than being in the same situation with 11 games remaining.
    Another interesting thing that i noticed this season is that all the ‘TOP’ teams are dropping points too easily. Every week you will see that 1 or 2 out of last years top 4 will drop points. So, like what Rafa said, it will take very much lesser points than last year to win the title. At this moment, only Chelski looks like they will run away with the tilte, and seriously that is how i see it ending. Man United will give them a good run but they won’t be able to do it. African nations would not hurt Chelski as much as we would have liked because they still have Anelka and Joe Cole to count on when Drogba, Kalou and Essien goes missing.
    I know this doesn’t sound right, but i rather we don’t win the title if we can get rid of the owners this way than win and stay with these fools forever.

  12. Niccolo

    November 1, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    I totally agree with both of you, but Benitez seems to have a weird confidence about him, I would not be surprised if he’s still there at the end of the season.

  13. brn442

    November 1, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Spot on Alan. Half of me feel the same way. There is no doubt that Benitez is one of the world’s best mangers, maybe the best tactician. However, he was brought in to win the title – period.
    Not to finish in the top four
    Not to win the champions league,
    Not to finish second.

    Yes, Unlike Jose, who had 100’s of millions of pounds worth of talent waiting for him, Benitez has had to deal with two clueless clowns as owners, the inevitable circus in the boardroom, and a bitter power struggle with Rick Parry. Surprisingly, according to LFC’s managing director (as said on BBC’s sports week), Benitez only got control of the youth team this season, that probably explains a lot.

    The other half of me feels that Rafa has to take some responsibility for failing to build a larger squad/second team with any sort of quality 6 years running, carrying on an 18 year old club culture that started under Souness of signing players that are simply not good enough to play for Liverpool week in, week out, plus not signing a quality second striker. If Crouch, Bellamy, and Keane weren’t supposedly good enough, why is Veronin? At least they played with “passion”

    His failure to get his players up for EVERY league match. What’s the point of beating Manchester if you’re going to surrender 3 points to Fulham just 60 minutes in?

    Liverpool’s problems transcend Benitez, I’m afraid. The 18 year old culture of settling for mediocrity, of just getting by, the sense of entitlement of hoping for the best by leaning on their past success, is now firmly entrenched at Anfield I’m afraid.

  14. Alan

    November 1, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Listen, if Jose Mourinho was in charge of Liverpool for six seasons and had won no league title then he would get the sack after losing 6 out of 7 and being out of the title by October. Benitez is no better than Mourinho so why does he deserve all this blind loyalty and “success is around the corner” nonsense we are fed by the IRWT brigade ?

    Benitez has done a good job overall but after 6 seasons he hasn’t been able to cross the final hurdle. It’s time to hand on the baton to someone with fresh ideas and a new voice in the dressing room. Mourinho, Hiddink or Rijkaard.

    If we have to keep Rafa til the summer then fine, but please let’s end this debate then and find a new manager. We already seen Evans and Houllier get longer than they should have in charge so let’s not keep making the same old tired mistakes at Anfield.

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