Monday, October 22, 2007

Mersey misery for Benitez, despite the win

ONE of those bizarre substitutions from Rafael Benitez on Saturday night that sets the mind boggling.

Midway through the second half of the Merseyside derby, with the scores level, Everton reduced to 10 men and Steven Gerrard finally providing the trademark drive that has been absent from his game ever since he injured his toe a month or so ago, Benitez decides to take him off.

His skipper looked dumb-founded, Liverpool fans in the Goodison Park (wow, a football stadium not named after a company) crowd were visibly shocked, while Liverpool fans around the world were looking at each other and wondering what on earth was on the managers mind.

Fair enough, the substitute, Brazilian Lucas, he of the hair-style made famous by Karel Poborksy, went on to have a very eye-catching debut and ultimately played the vital hand (pardon the pun) in the stoppage time winner, but what was Rafa thinking taking off his skipper?

After a quiet first half, predictably it was Gerrard that got Liverpool back in the game thanks to a trademark powerful run past Everton right back Tony Hibbert. While the first contact was outside the box, referee Mark Clattenberg was no doubt influenced by the fall inside, awarding the penalty and sending off Hibbert.

The 54th minute incident was undoubtedly the turning point in a game that the hosts had bossed, and from then on Liverpool was always bound to dominate. The question was, could they score again?

For the next 15 or so minutes, it was Gerrard that looked most likely to grab a winner. So when Lucas limbered up on the sideline, the expectation was that the fourth official would summon either of the holding midfielders, no. 20 (Javier Mascherano) or no. 22 (Momo Sissoko) to the sideline. Both had been peripheral to say the least, Sissoko in particularly living up to his recent poor form, struggling to complete even the simplest of passes.

Ultimately Benitez was let out of jail thanks to Phil Neville’s impressive impersonation of Tim Howard and Clattenberg’s failure to award Joleon Lescott an injury time penalty, but his explanation of the Gerrard substitution was even more dumb-founding;
“In this game, sometimes you need to play with the brain and we were playing with heart. We needed to keep the ball and pass the ball.”
Fair enough, sometimes Gerrard can be accused of over-commitment, of trying too hard, of being a bit single-minded, but it is generally because he craves success for Liverpool.

No doubt Benitez is feeling the pinch. Under pressure to deliver Liverpool’s first premiership in what seems a life-time, and with the Gunners and Man U slipping into irresistible form, things haven’t been smooth lately.

After an impressive start to the campaign, in which Fernando Torres has caught the eye, the wheels have fallen off with draws against Portsmouth, Porto, Birmingham and Tottenham, and a loss to Marseille, and the manager has come under massive criticism for his rotation policy, much of it justified, I believe.

Personally, I felt Liverpool, for this season at least, could have done without the distraction of a Champions league campaign, and I for one won’t be too disappointed if they finish bottom of group A (third place takes you into the Uefa cup, yet more games).

The premiership is not lost by all means, and the Reds are still one of only two teams yet to lose (along with Arsenal), but if they lose at home to Arsene Wenger’s artisans next Monday morning, it might as well be.

Liverpool will be nine points off the pace, a relative mountain.

While much focus will be on the Besiktas clash in Turkey this week, personally I wouldn’t mind Benitez tinkering yet again and fielding a second-string side in Europe, especially if it means a win against the Gunners.

The premiership means everything this year, particularly for Benitez.


Anonymous sir alex said...

dont put all your eggs in one basket!
if liverpool want to emulate the successes of the late 70's and early 80's, then they need to field their best side in as many competitions as possible. goodness knows, the squad is large enough but maybe not as talented as need be.
it appears to me that most liverpool fans acknowledge the luck of Istanbul 2005 yet really crave for domestic success, which they last tasted in 1989(i think).
there is only so many times that Reds fans can taunt opposing fans with their 5 European successes, with the resultant comeback being a lack of premiership silverware in recent times.
c'mon you liverpool supporters dont lose heart, its only october...and you guys havent had your usual mid season stumble yet.

Mon. Oct. 22, 04:13:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

sir, or should it be, smart-alek....

it pains me to agree with you, at least to some degree. i've long held the view that to claim to be the best in europe you have to consistently be the best at home, and, of late, lpool simply havent been, so no amount of champions league finals, or wins, will suffice, if we aren't winning the epl.

but i think you'll find the majority of those 5 - yes, i repeat, five - european successes were at a time when we were dominant domestically, so there's no doubt we have been the best in europe more than any other english side, a certain man u included (and that must pain you).

but right now, it's true, it's the domestic title we crave, so here's to a man u (and arsenal, and chelsea) cave!

Mon. Oct. 22, 04:54:00 pm AEST  

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