Some might say the digging began a while ago, some may insist the shovels are out too early, but most now agree Rafa Benitez has got the shovels out himself and began digging his own grave as manager of Liverpool FC.
Last night’s draw at Wigan was our ninth of the season. Yes, ninth draw in 23 league games. The last three seasons the league winners have drawn just 6, 5 and 4 times.
All three of them seasons the league winners lost five times. The reason being they risked going for a win rather than going away with a draw. We’ve lost just once this season, we might even end the season with just one defeat, yet winning the league seems highly unlikely now. Given that United are now effectively six points clear due to their game-in-hand and their significantly better goal difference, plus the fact they are in-form and we’re showing form of a mid-table team – 2 wins in the last 7 games.
What somebody needs to explain to Benitez is some simple maths. Let’s just say, of the 9 drawn games, we won 5 of them and lost the other 4 – we’d be 6 points better off. Even the other way around and we’d lost more than we’d won and we’d still be 3 points better off.
The frustrating thing is, early in the season, when we were needing a goal to win it, Benitez was happy to take off a full-back and throw on an attacker or winger and get the job done – against Middlesbrough and Wigan. Since then his philosophy has changed so much that he takes off a forward and brings on a midfielder. Somehow, it seems Benitez thinks matches can be won without strikers on the pitch? It’s here that you can argue why Benitez is more suited to the European game and getting a draw is a good result if you sneak a win in the second leg etc.
What has really irritated me lately is his failure to learn from his mistakes, or to apply any logic to his decisions. Let me refer to the combination of Lucas and Mascherano in midfield; it failed miserably at home to Fulham, so what does he do against a similar side like Stoke? Play the two of them together again. Both drawn. Few weeks later at Wigan, similar match, same again. Same result – two more points dropped. It’s all well and good ‘resting’ Alonso for the Chelsea match but even if we win on Sunday, we’ve already dropped two points last night. You’d have thought Rafa with his incredible rotation policy could have factored Alonso’s tiredness and given him a rest against Preston rather than in an important league fixture we desperately needed to win to give a clear message that we can keep up with United.
A lot of players have been getting some stick lately but Benitez has to be accountable. His use, or mis-use, of Keane applies no logic and quite frankly stinks. Rested against Everton on Sunday, so he can play a cameo seven minutes last night? Pointless. Why not bring him on for Torres? No, we don’t need forwards on the pitch, we’ll hand the initiative to he opposition just as we did last Monday and ended up with another two points dropped.
I read a post on The Liverpool Way last night which summed up how I feel about Benitez – having always been a massive fan of him (and I still hope he somehow turns it around), here’s part of the post:
“My faith is gone because of that substitution. There was no logical, tactical reason for it what so ever. Rafa was sending out a message. Taking off the best player he’s got for a man he’s got no belief in. Rafa’s always been stubborn, but that was a huge “fuck you” to the fans and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was some sort of stupid gesture about the whole Keane fiasco, like him saying “there you go, have your precious Keane on the pitch, i’ll take off Gerrard”. Whatever his reason, he’s lost one fan at least tonight that always, always believed in and backed him regardless of whether i agreed with him.
There’s a lot of fans who will think it’s an over-reaction, but Benitez has handed United the title on a plate. The opportunity to make it 18 each. Those who argue it was he who got us in the position to be challenging are correct, but it is also he who is now undoing all the early season work with illogical decisions and his negative tactics. We might end up going the whole season with one league defeat, yet be fighting for third or fourth on the last day. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where we’ve blown it.
The worst thing is, we all anticipated a crazy decision or two last night, hoping Rafa wouldn’t throw one of his crazy team selections, while it wasn’t that crazy, it was hardly inspiring for the average fan – and im sure the players felt the same way. Imagine being a Wigan player and seeing Torres, and later Gerrard, being taken off. Imagine being a Liverpool player and seeing Torres being replaced by Riera with twenty minutes to go. Inspirational stuff.
There’s some stats flying around comparing this season to last season (Eg. Arsenal away, Chelsea home etc. substituting relegated teams for promoted teams) which show this season we are four points less off, 11 goals worse on goal difference, scored eight less and conceeded 3 more. Hardly makes good reading or signs of progress does it.
Sunday is a massive day for Liverpool and Rafa Benitez; anything but a win will realistically end our title ambitions, and give Benitez some tough questions when he meets his new best friend Tom Hicks.