Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Lille Too Far For Rafa? Liverpool Crash To Defeat In The Europa League

With pressure mounting on Rafael Benitez and Liverpool following their EPL 1-0 loss to Wigan, it was felt that the distraction of Lille in the Europa League would be a welcome one. Sadly for the once great club, that was not to be, as the Reds were out-fought, out-thought, and largely out-played for the majority of the game.

Earlier this season Rafael Benitez made a promise to the board as much as the fans in that he would guarantee the club would finish in fourth and qualify for the Champions League.
He reiterated those words last week, implying that with Torres and Gerrard back in the team, together they would be sweeter on the eye and would still reach their targets. Namely a Champions League position and a Europa League Final.
Both are now looking unlikely possibilities after a week the club will want to forget quickly.
A truly insipid display away to Wigan was followed up by a naive, lacklustre, shambolic performance away to high flying Lille. The French side are currently challenging for the Ligue 1 title, and have only lost once at home all season, so they were never going to be an easy team to beat.
However, it does not matter how good or how bad the opposition are. If you do not do the basics right you will beat no one.
Unfortunately for the many Liverpool fans out there, the basics have been missing in this team for a long time now.
Liverpool have struggled against teams that have asked questions of them this year, and against The Mastiffs they were never really allowed to get into the game. A couple of good saves from Mikael Landreau were as close as the Reds came to breaking the deadlock and it was no surprise to see Lille take the lead.
The goal itself was fortuitous, but deserved on the balance of play.
Eden Hazard had caused Liverpool problems all night with his intelligent running and close control and it was his free kick that somehow found it's way into Pepe Reina's net.
His cross from the left was lofted into the box and eluded everyone, leaving a flat footed Reina rooted to the spot as it bounced in.
The defending for the goal was a prime example of Liverpool's troubles all season, and one must wonder why Rafa chooses to show so much faith in the zonal marking system.
In truth this kind of goal is liable to go in no matter what kind of system a team may use, but most importantly, these goals are not conceded by good teams on such a regular basis.
Pressure will understandably begin to mount again on Rafael Benitez.
Supporters will say that he is not responsible for what goes on once the team cross the line onto the pitch, and that he deserves the chance to put a bad season right. While detractors will say the Spaniard has spent extremely badly, his tactics are negative, and that the players are no longer playing for him.
Steven Gerrard has taken on the look of a man who is at the end of his tether. He just wants the season to end and for him to get on the plane to South Africa and take his mind off one of the club's worst years in living memory.
Jamie Carragher has suggested he is considering leaving the club if they do not meet his contract demands. Fernando Torres and Gerrard are on Manchester City's wish list while Pepe Reina has become linked with Barcelona.
These are dangerous times for all associated with the club.
After last seasons flirtation with administration, Liverpool must pay Royal Bank of Scotland £100 million in July. Having missed out on the knockout stages of the Champions League it seems highly unlikely that the club will make a profit of that magnitude this year, so the sale of some players looks likely.
Add the fact the supporters vote with their season tickets and Christian Purslow may have to axe Benitez even if he delivers on that fourth place promise.
As far as Lille are concerned, it is only half-time, and Liverpool should still have enough to go through.
A word of warning though, French football is on the up. Bourdeaux went through their Champions League group undefeated. Only this week, Lyon pulled off a richly deserved victory over Real Madrid's Galactico's to progress to the quarterfinals.
It will not be an easy task, and there are many futures on the line, not least Rafa's.