Rafael Benítez the only man who can make lady luck smile on Liverpool again

09 November 2009 10:39
Behind Benítez, as the fourth official announced three minutes of first-half injury time there stood Gerrard, stripped and ready for action, cast into the fray earlier than his manager, ideally, would have wished. His hand forced by a recurrence of Albert Riera's hamstring injury, Benítez called Gerrard back from his warm-up exercises.

First the Kop, then the rest of Anfield, rose as one. The noise was greater than that which had greeted David Ngog's first goal.That is the measure of Gerrard.

 Related ArticlesJeff Winter: Referees wary of Sir Alex FergusonGerrard and Torres to face BirminghamSport on televisionThe acclamation was borne of delight, at seeing their returning captain and talisman, but also of relief, a sense that, after a month of unmitigated crisis, it would all be all right again.

Football, of course, does not work like that, and neither does Alex McLeish. Cameron Jerome, 60 seconds later, unleashed an unstoppable, dipping effort above the despairing Pepe Reina and the anxiety returned. Gerrard is seen, with good reason, as a panacea to all of Liverpool's ills.

His class, his quality, his endless power and boundless reserves of quality see to that. When he is absent, as he was for 44 minutes here, Liverpool lack urgency, that cutting edge of quality.

Even without the England international, and his partner-in-crime, Fernando Torres, omitted from Benítez's match day squad as he begins a process of recuperation from his sportsman's hernia which his manager hopes will allow him to feature when Manchester City visit after the international break, Liverpool were clearly a vastly superior side than their visitors.

As they should be. Birmingham hustled and bustled, and they bear all the organisational hallmarks of a McLeish side, but they do not have the resources, the litany of top internationals, which Benítez can call on. Liverpool monopolised possession and territory and, on another day, could have had half a dozen before the break.

Glen Johnson twisted James McFadden's and Liam Ridgewell's blood twice - earning the latter a public dressing down from McLeish - and Ngog, Albert Riera, Lucas and even Martin Skrtel had chances to extend the lead granted them by the young Frenchman's early strike. That they did not proved the importance, in absentia, of Gerrard and Torres. But that they threw away that lead had nothing to do with their absence.

Yet again, it was the twin curses of Liverpool's season - set pieces and an absolute absence of luck.

For Christian 'Chucho' Benítez's goal, the visitors were granted three free headers from a straightforward McFadden set piece. It was the sort of goal which Liverpool simply would not have conceded in the previous five seasons of their manager's reign. It is too simplistic to blame Benítez's - the manager, not the striker - preference for zonal marking, as such an explanation does not account for half a decade of defensive solidity.

Rather, it is countless failures on the part of the players - failure to communicate, failure to attack the aerial ball. Benítez, of course, is paid £4 million a year to address these issues. That he has failed to do so is a far more serious indictment of his tenure than arguments over his transfer spend, his man-management or his occasionally wilful eccentricity.

That Liverpool have lost their defensive identity at the same time they have lost any good fortune they may once haven enjoyed has hardly helped.

Jerome will not score a better goal this season, and he would not have scored it at all had Reina been placed around a yard closer to his line. Add that to the list of the beach ball goal, Lyon's equaliser in the Champions League last week that looked offside et cetera.

There is an argument, though, that Liverpool are making their own bad luck, that if they were not making mistakes they would not find the rub of the green going against them.

Worryingly, even Gerrard cannot help them solve that. It is entirely Benítez's domain.

Source: Telegraph