Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crisis at Liverpool For Rafael Benitez

Following their loss at Anfield to Lyon in the Champions League, most Liverpool fans meandered away scratching their heads wondering where it has all gone wrong. A fourth defeat in four games leaves the club on their worst run for years, and manager Rafael Benitez's job is now in severe doubt...

So far this season we have seen a Liverpool team who have really struggled to overcome good opposition. Beaten by Spurs, Aston Villa, Chelsea, and Sunderland in the league, Liverpool entertain Manchester United this coming weekend.

The freakish nature of their defeat to Sunderland thanks to a deflection from a beach ball only served to highlight the manner of the shock performance against the Black Cats where they were played off the pitch completely.

Worrying Trend Developing at Liverpool, Inability to Beat Good Teams

And following their defeat to Lyon in the group stages of European football's elite trophy they now stare down the barrel of a gun and could go out of the competition at such an early stage.

The added distraction that the Liverpool faithful are beginning to show their displeasure by booing their manager after his decision to take Yossi Benayoun, their best player against Lyon, off with six minutes to go at 1-1 to rest him for Saturday, show that the cracks have finally begun to show between the manager and the supporters.

As far as the Champions League is concerned, the Anfield giants must win in Lyon on November 4th. If they fail to come away with all three points the remaining fixtures will be carved up between Fiorentina and Lyon and they will exit the competition.

On the pitch the team look a shambles of the side who pushed Manchester United to the limit last season.

And that is with only one real change to the starting team following Xabi Alonso's transfer to Real Madrid for £30 million.

On paper it is only one change, Alonso for Lucas.

But in reality the change has had a catastrophic effect on Liverpool as an attacking entity.

When Alonso was in the side, he acted as a link between defence and attack, starting many attacks with his pinpoint passing. His style brought out the best in Javier Mascherano, who was happy to sit in midfield closing down spaces the opposition would dare wander into.

As a forward going player, the Argentinian offers no ambition whatsoever, so when Alonso moved on to pastures new, and was replaced by young Brazilian Lucas the dynamic of the team changed completely as Lucas is closer in style to Mascherano than Alonso.

This simple change meant that Liverpool's most potent attacking player, Steven Gerrard, was forced to come deeper, effectively neutralising him against good opposition who happily shepherded him into less dangerous positions.

Of course, Benitez is the architect of his midfield's demise in more ways than one.

For a start, it was he who forced Alonso out of the team after he made it known he was chasing Manchester City's Gareth Barry as the Spaniard's replacement. When the deal with Barry's old team, Aston Villa, collapsed he was forced to make do with Alonso for at least one more season.

Alonso Transfer Piles Pressure on Benitez to Produce or Else...

And when Alonso went looking for a transfer from the club last summer, Steven Gerrard approached his manager to try and talk him out of letting Alonso leave, to no avail. Because Benitez had his replacement already lined up.

This is where the first and second major mistakes entwine as new signing Alberto Aquilani was injured and unavailable for the first three months of the season.

Elsewhere, other problems have come into focus, namely Liverpool's now shaky defense and complete lack of squad depth.

As far as the defense concerned, Liverpool have made two big changes in the fullback positions, where both Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua have come in. Both are effectively better players than any of Liverpool's fullbacks last year, but they are significantly different in one important area.

They are both attacking fullbacks, whereas last year they were defenders first.

With both players bombing on, spaces have been left behind and Liverpool's slow centre halves have been caught out and isolated by teams with good strikers.

Jamie Carragher's form has seen many column inches donated in the debate over whether he is finished at this level or not. But in all reality he is the same player as last year except this time around he is being exposed by the gaps his full backs are leaving on the side but also the gaps that Lucas is not covering through the centre.

This is now where the lack of squad depth is coming into focus, simply put, Liverpool do not have a squad capable of challenging for the league.

The lack of cover for Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard only gives credence to the "two-man team" theory that has been doing the rounds for some years.

Without one or the other or both, Liverpool are not the same team. They are a team who are more than the sum of their parts, especially when the world class duo are on the pitch.

With them in the team Liverpool are capable of beating anyone. Less than one year ago, they hammered four goals past both Real Madrid and Manchester United in the space of a week.

The stats back up the theory emphatically.

When Gerrard and Torres play together, Liverpool win 79 percent of their matches.

Without either that drops to 54 percent.

This stat emphasises the lack of squad depth at Liverpool. In short it brings Rafael Benitez's transfer record to book.

In six seasons at the club Benitez has spent £210 million on 48 players.

Rafael Benitez, Arsene Wenger, and Alex Ferguson's Transfer History

He has spent a vast amount of money rebuilding Gerard Houillier's squad, but it would now appear as if there is little to show for it. No squad players of a high enough standard for a club like Liverpool, and little or no youth players coming through.

And his excuses of losing because his best players were not available just don't wash, not when he has signed almost 50 players in a little over five years.

Internal disputes have not helped matters either. Only last June KPMG warned that Liverpool were in danger of becoming the next Leeds United after they failed to service their debt.

KPMG Warn That Liverpool Could Become the Next Leeds

All of these issues have combined to leave Liverpool with their worst start to a season since 1963, a year in which they ironically won the league after a similar start to the season.

In this era the chances of that happening again are remote in the slightest. Especially with the resources available to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal. Even a club like Tottenham can rival Liverpool in terms of spending so the competition is greater than before.

And now with six defeats in all competitions and their title aspirations hanging in shreds, Rafael Benitez faces possibly his toughest task to date, holding onto his job.

The Premiership title is a pipe dream, so Liverpool's future as a club is hanging on the Champions League, perhaps it always was, as the CL can contribute some £50 million to a club without having to reach the final.

Going out in the group stages would be tantamount to financial suicide to the club so heavily leveraged in debt.

Another revelation regarding Fernando Torres' future at the club has also come to light after Liverpool turned down a £70 million bid from Manchester City in the summer after an 11th hour re-structuring to their debt by Royal Bank of Scotland who were afraid of the backlash they would receive from putting one of football's leading lights into administration.

Without the vital income of the Champions League, the clubs wages cannot be met alone through gate receipts and Liverpool as a club would be forced to downsize considerably. As Manchester City's wealth pushes them towards the summit of the Premiership, Liverpool would find it almost impossible to get back into the "top four."

It is the countdown to that Nov. 4 game against Lyon that now hangs over Rafael Benitez like a shadow.

Between now and then Liverpool face the small hurdles of Manchester United (H), Arsenal (A), and Fulham (A).

With morale as low as it has been for decades, these are not three fixtures Liverpool will be looking forward to, especially without Gerrard and Torres, should they fail to return from injury. Remember the stats?

Lose one or more of these three games and the board will have to decide if Rafael Benitez is the right man to lead them into battle against Lyon in that crunch game.

Twenty days later, just after the international break for the playoffs, Liverpool travel to Hungary to take on Debrechen in a game they should easily win on paper. Either side of that CL tie they take on Manchester City (H) and Everton (A).

Two factors come into play concerning Benitez's future at the club. The first being Liverpool's considerable debt, and the question as to if the board have the resources to compensate him adequately should they decide to part company, especially as he only signed a substantial new contract last season.

The other factor is that Benitez undoubadly deserves time to put things right. He has done enough over his time in charge to suggest that he can get them back into winning ways, winning the title is another question entirely.

And they did go very close to winning that elusive title last year, which in all probability magnifies this seeming collapse this year.

Rafael Benitez's future at the club he brought an historic Champions League win in 2005 is in peril, he's partly the architect of his own downfall, and now he has one month to save his job, and possibly save the club from financial ruin.

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