The Libero on Liverpool: Benitez-bashing, beach balls and big blunders
Without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, Liverpool have been a shadow of the side that finished last season as the best team in the Premier League.
On Saturday, they were unlucky to go behind to B. Ball's early goal (a relative of the late, great former Everton and England hero A. Ball, perhaps?), but to blame that one bizarre incident would be to gloss over the deeper lying problems at the club.
To Rafa's credit immediately after that game, he refused to single out the now infamous red inflatable's contribution, nor the officials' worryingly erroneous decision to allow the goal to stand, instead admitting his team "were not doing well".
Unfortunately, they did no better on Wednesday, when Gerrard managed just 25 minutes of play and Lyon came from behind to grab victory in injury time and put a huge dent in Liverpool's hopes of making it out of the group stage. Once again deprived of their star duo, the Liverpool XI on the pitch looked lightweight.
On Saturday, 20-year-old debutant Jay Spearing got the nod in the centre of midfield while three wingers played up front. No one who can genuinely be described as a centre forward started the game.
Benitez's decision to experiment with a three-man back line did not help either, even less so considering Jamie Carragher's fragile confidence and current loss of form.
Then on Wednesday, it was the turn of 19-year-old Martin Kelly to make his first start for the club, apparently in a bid by Benitez to keep Carragher from occupying the right-back position at all costs. And David Ngog started up front.
In fairness to both Spearing and Kelly, they both put in promising performances considering their age and inexperience, but what has become evident over the past week is that, despite Benitez's protestations, strength in depth is noticeably lacking in his squad.
Do Liverpool rely heavily on the talents of their two most prized assets? Yes. Is there any shame in that? No. After all, it would be remiss of a manager not to demand so much from two such supreme talents.
The fact of the matter is that neither are replaceable when injured, but to become a side that is able to sustain a challenge for titles, Benitez must open his eyes to the possibility of strengthening his wafer-thin squad, starting in the striking department.
Unfortunately, despite the evidence piling up before his eyes, he does not seem prepared to do that just yet.
On the eve of the game against Lyon, he said: "We have been criticised but I am happy with the squad. The vast majority of them were here last season when we won 86 points, very little has changed."
What he failed to point out was that, despite winning those 86 points last season, Liverpool ended the campaign trophyless.
And with this season increasingly unlikely to trouble the Anfield trophy-polishers once again, very little, it seems, will change.
- The Libero (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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