The home defeat to Barnsley in the F.A. Cup represents a new low in what has so far been a season we would prefer to forget. Liverpool have had some defeats by Championship sides in the last few years, Crystal Palace and Burnley to name two, but Saturdays loss brought back terrible memories of Bristol City in 1994. Graeme Souness was sacked following that embarrassing defeat and the pressure is now mounting with every game for the current boss Rafa Benitez.
Fortunately for Rafa, unlike Souness in 1994, Liverpool still have the chance of winning silverware this season. The game against Inter Milan on Tuesday was already the biggest game for Liverpool since Athens last May, but after Saturday the importance of this game is huge. It would not be exaggerating to say that our entire season (and Rafa’s tenure as Liverpool manager) may rest on what happens over the next ninety minutes at Anfield.
This morning I woke up to a load of e-mails from friends and family all over the world and all of them were asking the exact same question; ‘œshould Rafa be sacked?’ I really do not have answer to this question and I’m not sure that there really is a true answer. When I first thought about this question the first thing to come to my mind was that if Rafa was to be sacked, who is there around to replace him? The only unemployed manager to come to mind, without a lot of thought, who would be able to take on a job as big as this seems to be Jose Mourinho. Hiring Mourinho would be extremely controversial and it’s doubtful he would even come to Anfield anyway if the situation in the boardroom remains as it currently stands. I’m curious to know where the cash will come from to improve the side in the summer. For Liverpool to start competing on the pitch we need to compete in the transfer market too, more players like Torres and Mascherano are needed in the side and these players cost around â‚¤20 million plus. If Hicks and Gillett remain the owners by the summer they will want to see some profit from the club and with us not generating too many profits in the last few seasons I don’t know how we can finance players and loan interest payments that are suggested as being around â‚¤30 million per year.
It is certain that there are many problems on the playing side of things at Liverpool and as much as the players need to stand up and be counted, it is Rafa’s responsibility for the team performances. My dad and my uncle Marty have both suggested that Rafa picked the wrong side to face Barnsley, a criticism Rafa has faced many times this season whenever Torres has been rested. Our Marty said to me this morning; “I am getting fed up with him saying on camera that he only looks at one game ahead yet he put a squad out with one eye on the champions league. Looks like all eggs in one basket again’. Of course he is suggesting something I have been thinking for a while, and I’m sure I’m not alone, that Rafa seems to be counting on us winning the Champions League to cover up the massive flaws in our Premiership performances and results. I would like to counter the argument that Rafa put out a weak side against Barnsley on Saturday by saying that the side out there should have been easily good enough to beat a side currently fourteenth in the Championship. The only genuine criticism of Rafa from Saturday was the substitution of Babel for Kewell. Ryan Babel is regularly our biggest threat going forward when he plays from the start and yet he never seems to play a full game. He was substituted too early against Luton away in the third round of the F.A. Cup. You could clearly hear the crowd booing when Kewell was introduced on Saturday, not a reflection of feeling towards Kewell but more to do with frustration at Rafa once again stifling some genuine creativity in midfield.
The current biggest problem on the pitch seems to be the lack of turning chances into goals, especially when our two highest scorers Torres and Gerrard aren’t playing together. As Rafa repeated after the Barnsley game; ‘œwe cannot take our chances to finish games’. We had twenty-one chances at goal against Barnsley and scored once and hit the woodwork once. The Barnsley goalkeeper Luke Steele had the game of his life, on his debut, pulling off a string of world class saves, but we still had too many good chances that should have resulted in goals. I’m trying not to be too harsh on Dirk Kuyt but I’m afraid he doesn’t deserve to ever wear a Liverpool shirt again. I sympathise with his problems off the field and I applaud him for his supreme work effort, but as a striker he is paid to score goals. His wastefulness in front of goal is simply appalling and I don’t think I’m being too harsh on him by saying that. His confidence seems to be unbelievably low at the moment, last season he looked terrific but his first touch is gone. Whenever he gets the ball with a chance of scoring, he seems to take too long making a decision and he takes one touch too many and in the fast pace of the game the chance can be gone in a split second.
Too many long range shots were going nowhere near to the net against Barnsley, mostly from Riise and Alonso. These are two players who may not be at the club at the end of the season, Riise only turns up occasionally these days and his awesome shooting ability seems to have disappeared with no signs of ever returning. While those who know me have had to endure my constant foul mouthed criticisms of Riise, I have not had many bad things to say about Xabi Alonso. The Spanish midfielder has been a real favourite player of mine since his first season at Liverpool, but I’m afraid this season he’s been awful more often than not. I know that injuries and the emergence of Lucas Leiva has a lot to do with Alonso’s form, but if he doesn’t start taking his opportunities when he does start games then his chances will start to decrease more and more until he will eventually be fourth choice unfortunately. In my opinion it is only his past performances and reputation that is preventing this at the moment.
If we play like this against Inter Milan on Tuesday we will undoubtedly get beat, possibly by a few goals and yet I have a strong feeling we will win the game and advance to the quarter finals. If we were to lose however then I am frightened at how severe the fallout may be over the following days. I think we now need to put Barnsley in the past and concentrate on getting behind the team against Inter Milan and let’s hope we can salvage something from the season.