Sunday, May 2, 2010

Chelsea All But Win The EPL Title at Liverpool, Where To Now For Rafael Benitez?

After beating Stoke City 7-0 last week, Chelsea strolled to an even easier win today by triumphing 2-0 over a sterile Liverpool side at Anfield. In the run up to the game many pundits had questioned if the Reds would roll over and have their bellies tickled, well they did that, and more.

The Pensioners made a slightly nervous start before, perhaps poetically, Steven Gerrard's awful back-pass was intercepted by a grateful Didier Drogba who gave Chelsea the lead. Carlo Ancellotti's side never looked back as Liverpool completely gave up after the opening goal, conceding the remaining hour of the match to the Blues who were allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

Frank Lampard scored the decisive goal on 54 that well and truly killed off the game and from there the non-event became a complete non-event. Chelsea played out the game in a professional manner while Rafael Benitez's charges played like their minds were on where they would be taking their holiday's in the summer.

It was an abysmal end to the season for Liverpool and Benitez, and is perhaps the final nail in the coffin in what is the Reds worst season in living memory. After spending some £240 million in six seasons Liverpool are now further away from winning the league than at any point over the last 19 seasons.

While their lacklustre display may mean that Manchester United will be denied that elusive 19th title, bringing them level with Liverpool, it would seem fair to say that United will win their next title before the Reds will.
Some of the major criticisms of Benitez during his reign has been his record in the transfer market and his reluctance to bring players through from the youth system. Today this record was cruelly exposed as Chelsea moved to an easy win over a team who were expected to be one of the main contenders this year.

The game started as expected with Chelsea forcing the early going with Lampard firing wide from close range. Alberto Aquilani, so often unused by Rafa, almost gave the Reds an unlikely lead when his effort clipped the top of the crossbar with Cech rooted to the spot.

It was as close to taking the lead as Liverpool were ever to get and was a perfect symbolic representation of their entire season, almost but not quite there.
Mere minutes later and Chelsea took the lead and the game as a competitive outlet was all but over. The crowd at Anfield saw the writing on the wall and for the rest of the game were relatively mute as the Blues took control. When Lampard added the second ten minutes after the interval some fans started to leave, and Anfield, not at capacity for the third straight game began to empty.

This is perhaps the biggest indicator of what Benitez's future will be. While the Spaniard has expertly played every side off each other saying on one hand that his best players may be sold to raise some much needed cash for an injection of up to seven players and that he will resign if he is not given the money to carry this out, and then on the other saying that he will leave if his best players are sold.

All of this is to appeal to the fans, to make it look like he has their best interests at heart, while the only real person he is looking after is himself. Endearing himself to those who would support him in this troubled season.

However, with Anfield not selling out again, and with some fans leaving early before the customary end of season lap of honour for the final home game of the year, it would appear as if the fans are beginning to vote with their feet.

It is also very important to note that when Liverpool did the lap, Benitez was greeted rather mutely by the Anfield crowd as the tide of support has finally turned against him. Many now expect the Spaniard to take over at Juventus at the end of the season.

During this period of the season Rafa has tried to "run with the foxes and the hounds" but all this has resulted in is many of his "Rafaelites" turning on him. It is an open secret that his agent has been looking for exit routes from Anfield, all the while Rafa was denying any knowledge of the sort.

Both Juventus and Real Madrid have contacted Liverpool about the amount of compensation that would need to be paid to attain his services and word has come from the corridors of power at Anfield that they would not step in his way should he wish to move on.

The sad prognosis is that Chelsea came to Liverpool to win, while many questioned if the Reds would throw the match. The difference is class between the two sides meant that the result was never in question and Liverpool never really had a say in the matter.

It shows how far Liverpool have regressed in just one season, and now the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Aston Villa can boast squads that are equal to if not better than the one on show in the red half of Liverpool.

It is a case of going back to the drawing board for the club. The Benitez experiment has failed and the relationship needs to end if the club are to go forward. The current best case scenario is for a club to come in and take the Spaniard, because in their current financial state Liverpool cannot afford to sack him.
Benitez knows this and has hedged his bets with perfect political precision.

The real question on Anfield as we move to the summer is not when will Rafa go, but who will replace him...