Monday, November 9, 2009

Rafa Stares Into the Abyss After Birmingham Draw

The best slant that can be put on another poor Liverpool performance is that they managed to come from behind to draw against Birmingham But that tells it's own tale, as the equalizing goal came from a penalty after David Ngog dived to win the spot kick...

Little will have been done in this game to lift the pressure that Rafael Benitez finds himself under.

If anything Rafa's time in charge of Liverpool can be summed up as a team who were stronger than the sum of their parts, who were defensively solid, and who always rose to the occasion of a big match.

So far this year it has almost been the complete opposite.Their once sound defence has been found wanting against teams that have attacked and their midfield has been bypassed, out fought, out thought, and is clearly missing the influence of Xabi Alonso.

Their much talked about 'zonal marking' system has been shown for the shambles it always was, and now Liverpool look like conceding from every cross and set piece. The problem in using this system is that it relies on every player being 100 percent switched on, and even then it is very susceptible against organized opponents.

Last season the big four in the EPL, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool only lost 17 games all season, with the Anfield giants losing only twice.

But this year they have already lost 12, and Liverpool have contributed a massive five to that total.

Add in their Champions League problems and Rafa is facing the first and possibly last crisis of his Liverpool career.

His problems can be traced back to his purchases over his six seasons in charge, and now the once great club look like they have a paper thin squad.

It says much about the quality that Benitez has at his disposal that he was forced to bring on a half fit Steven Gerrard at half time against Birmingham and then for him to be Liverpool's most potent threat on goal, whilst playing on one leg.

Before tonight, Birmingham boasted the worst forward line in the EPL, having only scored eight goals from their 11 matches. But they managed to ask questions of Rafa's team as others have done before them.

Of course, Liverpool did not start with their two world class talents, Gerrard and Torres, but they should still have had enough to brush Alex McLeish's team aside. Without the duo the onus to create falls upon Yossi Benayoun, and while he is a very capable player, he is not of the upper echelon of Premiership quality.

Rafa's run without a win has now stretched to 9 games. To some this will be summed up as just a bad run, and many will be praying that all their injured return after the international break, to face the EPL's other club on the verge of a crisis, Manchester City.

Liverpool are only three points off that coveted Champions League spot. And sources from within Anfield have confirmed that Rafa will only be sacked if it is mathematically impossible for them to qualify for next years tournament.

Never mind if they go out early this year. A very real possibility.

So where to Liverpool and Rafa turn to now?

Well, the international break ahs come at an ideal time. It should allow their star players an extra couple of weeks to recuperate, but if you believe everything you hear, then Rafa has been guiding Fernando Torres through the last couple of games until Gerrard returns, and then he will have an operation on that troublesome groin.

Without Torres or Gerrard in the team, Liverpool are a shadow of themselves, and without the Spaniard in particular it is hard to see them breaking down the kind of quality that rests in the upper half of the Premiership.

Without either of the pair, Liverpool's win percentage is only 56 percent, with both it is a dramatic 79 percent.

The game against City is now a huge one for both clubs.

Currently Manchester City sit one point ahead of Liverpool but with one game in hand. If they were to beat the Reds at Anfield and win that extra game they would then be seven points in front, heading towards January.

It is here that the battle for fourth will be won and lost this year.

Liverpool have very little in the way spending power, but their owners could be forced to dig deep to buy back up for Torres.

While City are expected to buy heavily, to consolidate their push for fourth. And after spending somewhere in the region of £150 million in less than one year, it is easy to come to that conclusion.

The other contenders for fourth are Tottenham, and with Spurs being somewhat of a pushover in midfield, Harry Redknapp is expected to sign two if not three new players while the Lilywhites push City and Liverpool to the line.

So for all intensive purposes the week following the international break will take on one of utmost importance for Rafa.

Manchester City (h), Debrechen (a), and Everton (a) are the three biggest games of the season for Rafa.

To guarantee his job he must win all three.

Lose two of these games and Tom Hicks and George Gillett will be seeking advice on Rafa's future.

The abyss is staring back.