How on Earth?

We’ve been crying out for years for a serious challenge to the title. It’s 1st December and we’re top of the league, albeit by one point, and yet I’ve rarely been more pessimistic about our chances of winning it. How on earth with our consistently poor performances this season are we top of the league? One thing is for certain, if we carry on playing like we did against West Ham, our luck will run out and we will fade into 4th (or worse) yet again.

One game obviously doesn’t dictate the fortunes of a season but we have lacked domination against so many of the weaker sides in the league and we seem totally devoid of ideas of how to break down defensive teams. Champions hammer teams like West Ham 4-0, who tonight played very ordinary themselves and only looked like snatching a goal when we let them counter attack.

Our record this season shows only 3 times have we won by at least 2 clear goals in the league; Everton, Bolton and West Brom. Compare this to Arsenal and Man Utd who (after comparatively poor starts) have won 5 games each by 2 clear goals or more and Chelsea who have won 9 games by the same margin or greater.

I have defended Benitez to the hilt not only on this site and others but also verbally over the past 4 years. I feel however that something must be clearly wrong with either the tactics he employs or more worryingly the coaching and motivation that he and his team provide in training. Why else do players move to Liverpool and seem to become worse than when they played elsewhere?

Robbie Keane is probably the best example of this. He has played in the Premier League for years for several clubs and surely doesn’t need that long to adjust to his new surroundings. He looks devoid of ideas, disinterested and clearly unable to find the target on anything like a regular basis. Benitez now seems to have such lack of faith in him that he substituted him for David Ngog who is totally unproven, not only in England but also in France where he came from. Is this the sign of a desperate manager or one who has realised he may have wasted £20M in the summer? I’m sure if he wanted a back up striker past his best he could have offered Newcastle half of that amount for Michael Owen.

When Yossi Benayoun came to the club, nobody really thought he would set the world alight but he was a classy player at West Ham with great versatility, able play in a number of positions. He wants to be in the first team more often but on tonight’s performance (and many others before) he looks a shadow of his formal self. The same can also be said of Ryan Babel who we all expected to take off this season and really make an impact. Few would deny he seems to have gone backwards and his 15 minutes on the field against West Ham cemented the fact that he is light years away from providing the kind of dazzling performances we want and even nowhere near matching his promising start of last year.

It is worth a note at this point on Benitez’s other major summer transfers. Andrea Dossena (who I previously knew nothing about) cost around £8M and has looked solid at times and woeful at others. I’d have rather spent the money on Wayne Bridge who must be desperate for a chance at another big club and surely could have been captured for a similar fee. Albert Riera has proven a little better, showing some promising signs but has been anything but consistent. The biggest problem I have with Rafa’s transfer decisions (apart from Keane) is that he almost sold Xabi Alonso who I would say has been our best player this season and even against West Ham looked the best on the field. I don’t want to play the “I told you so” card but I will, as if you’ve read my column before you may remember I was against replacing him with Gareth Barry and agreed with the board in their decision to stall on the deal.

Benitez may not have lost the plot yet (let’s remember we are somehow top) but something needs to change. I hesitate to call for 3 or 4 more players in January because we’ve been doing that every season for almost as long as I can remember. It may be a change of coaching staff that is required as the present set up don’t seem to have the creativity or motivation to get the best out of a team, that even if winning the league is beyond them, should be able to score a goal against Stoke, Fulham or West Ham at home.

Perhaps if we get Torres back we can start scoring again, the team will all click into place and we’ll still be top (or close) come the end of the season. That is seeming increasingly unlikely to me and judging by the 4,000 empty seats at Anfield tonight I’m not the only one.

14 comments on
How on Earth?

  1. 1 more thing to talk about,i dont know may be RAFA has some personal grudges against pennat,i belive when he comes as a sub he is always super.i dont know how to get to rafa bt i think he should see this.
    pennat being brought as at 65′ and KYut moved to support the removed foward will be a good formular.
    i ‘ve watched pennat many times and i belive he is match winner when it comes to late times SUBS.remenber vs intermillan 07/08 round of 16, he was majical

  2. what are we talking about here,offer newcastle 10 million for owen,when the likes of MARTHINS is readilly avilable,he has got strenght and alot of PACE,this guy will be a succes in anfield just if our mannager can give him a thought.
    now is our OPPORTUNITY to snatch him,i heard that our messiside rival r making a bid for him. if we make a relatively lesser bid he will snacthed.for now i belive the guy is very hot even at newcastle.
    Now if given the chance to play among the likes of GERRARD,TORRES, KYUT and others he will blend smoothly
    thanks.

  3. Will we ever be happy? If someone said to you that come the early part of December we’d be top of the league, a point ahead of Chelsea, 6 ahead of Utd and 8 ahead of Arsenal you’d have snapped their hand off for it. OK Utd have a game in hand and can close the gap to 3 points, but they’ve gotta win that first and they’re off to Japan soon to be distracted by the world club championship. For too long we’ve been out of a title race by September. In 2005-2006 we ammassed more points from October onwards than any other team and would have won the title comfortably if we hadn’t already been out of the race. This time we’re leading the race and we’ve almost reached the turn of the new year and people are still not happy. Under Rafa, with the exception of 2004/05 we’ve always had a good second half of the season, finishing strongly. Does this not make anyone feel a little optimistic? All this talk of us not even getting top 4 is a bit premature don’t you think? To be honest, I’ve been disappointed with our fans this year. Booing the team off if they’re not picking up 3 points every week, slagging them off saying we’ll be lucky to get 4th. We’re one of the few clubs whose fans can actually make a difference, earn us some results, you’ve only got a look at recent seasons in the champions league. If the title race is tight come may and we’re still in there, we can make the difference. Every game can be like a cup final for us if we get behind the team.

  4. We do seem to lack the killer instinct that (spit)man u and chelsea have , the bottom teams no they are going to been shown no mercy when they go there, but at Anfield they feel they have a chance., The “This is Anfield” sign needs to spread the fear that it used to, throughout the other teams and the pride it did in our own players,. On a slightly brighter note Dossena had a better game, could be the opposition, could be a turning point for him, God please make it the second. Anyway we are top lets hope we can stay there.

  5. Another inept performance from the Reds, I have to agree Robbie Keane does not look like finding the target enough.Also feel Benayoun should have scored,have to agree on this woeful performance we will struggle to stay in the top four never mind challenge for the title

  6. I should really read the whole article before posting shouldnt i?!!!!!!!!!!
    Everyone keeps banging on about Torres, and rightly so, hes world class, but the simple fact is we cant rely on him all the time to score the goals, others need to chip in aswell. N’gog looks a shambles. I go back to what happened 4 or 5 years ago now, Owen keeps being linked with a move back to Anfield but Rafa should never have let him go in the first place.

  7. Nick, your only half right. We only need 1 or 2 players in January. We are 1st afterall. As ive already said Ashley Young would be perfect.
    And we did score a goal against Stoke, in the third minute, it was just wrongly disallowed. If that would have stood it would have been a completely different game.

  8. Signing Robbie Keane was not a mistake hes a class player and he always has a slow start to the season, i admit if he doesnt start scoring very soon people will start asking questions. The problem i think is now that Pennant has screwed up his chance with a big club we have no right winger, Kuyt is not a winger, i know hes played alright out there but we need a out and out winger. I say try to buy Ashley Young in january, hes world class and only gonna keep improving, i think him coupled with Riera on the left will be a winning combo. Until then why hasnt Rafa ever played Babel on the right? He is right footed afterall.

  9. It did not help when my Setanta signal broke up but clearly we appear complacent against nonentity teams and so we pass the ball around, expecting the vistors to make the first mistake. Both Radio 5 and the local stations told it as they saw it, lack of ideas and strange team selection. Why did Agger, Mascherano and Babbel not start?
    Are we now a two-man team? God help us if ever Stevie G gets injured!

  10. Nick.
    My issue with Benitez is his timing of his subs , In all honesty i am also fed up with constantly changing his formation , after finding a formula that works albeit only one up front Rafa seems to worry more about the opposition than letting them worry about us..But that aside his subs and timing i find baffling.Take last night for me both Benayoun and Reira were the two most ineffective players on show .Yet rafa left until nearly 78 mins before changing one of them. Granted Benayoun got a little better second half but that just paints over the cracks.As an example if that was Mourinho’s team last night he would of dragged both off at half time and changed it round.
    Rafa at times seems devoid of ideas when plan A is not working. Again the Fulham game was the same, The worst player on the park was Lucas yet Benitez decided Mascherano should be brought off. To be honest right now although we are top of the league i dont think we will be there long the way we are going. I actually think the Man utd game apart we have been less than average at Anfield this season. And the most frustrating thing for me and those that sit around me on the Kop is that certain players like Kuyt when playing badly seem immune from being dragged off yet players like Babel and even Pennant cant get a game for love nor money. At least the two players mentioned can go past people and get you off your seat, last night we had no-one capable of taking on a defender let alone getting to the byline and whiiping in a cross. I mean what is the point in giving Babel 12mins to turn the game.
    All those players would be sat in the dressing room after the game thinking we have blown it again .But Rafa should also be thinking IVE BLOWN IT AGAIN. But to end on a bright note i actually thought one of the best palyers last night was Dossena.

  11. Unfortunately, you can’t win the league these days with just solid foundations alone. During Houllier’s glory years, we were arguably the best team in the league defensively, but it never really got us anywhere near to the title. I think the same things are happening now. We rarely concede goals and we’ve lost fewer games than anyone, but our goals scored figure is crap compared to the other big four. It’s all about winning these days and accumulating as many wins as possible. In our own glory years of the 70’s and 80’s we didn’t win every week and we often lost a few games, but back then it wasn’t about being perfect, it was about being consistent and getting more points than anyone else. A good run in the latter part of the season could often earn a championship if you were within touching distance, but now you’ve got be there or there abouts all season. These days, would we be able to win the league being 12th on boxing like we did in 1981-82? No chance. However, we are still top and we’ve got Torres to look forward to when he’s fit and the prospect of another much needed striker in January, with some reports suggesting Owen may be on the cards. I wasn’t a fan of Crouchie, but I think he’d have given us much more than Robbie Keane has, and also gives us another option if plan A aint working. Keep the faith.

  12. Nick,
    Unfortunately I am starting to subscribe to your views. My only throttle the cling to is that we are top for once. I think that signing robbie keane was a mistake despite his past.

  13. The problem is that tactics weigh too heavily on players minds. They need freedom to express yet always seem concerned with defensive duties first, attacking 2nd, which clearly explains why we havent scored nearly as many goals as our rivals. Well, that combined with Torres getting injured everytime Spain borrow him

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