Ringmaster Rafa does it again

Saturday’s defeat to a team without a win in four months seems to have finally woken a few eternal optimists and now even they are admitting our shortfalls and admitting the title is lost – just days after the magic of Madrid.

Fair enough, the players were shocking but what I find most incredible is that some people persist on defending Benitez where he simply is indefensible.

Most of the post-match talk has centred around the decision to play Martin Skrtel at right back. There’s one person in the forums who claims it isn’t Benitez’s fault Arbeloa got injured. Ah, what a genius that guy is.

Degen - Signed by RafaIt is, however, Benitez’s fault he signed an absolute shocker of a sicknote in Philipp Degen. We all thought there must have been a reason why even Dortmund no longer wanted the Swiss right back, now we understand why. Benitez signed him as cover for right back so yes, that’s Benitez’s fault.

The man Degen replaced, Steve Finnan, was a more than capable cover for right back and competition for Arbeloa – whose fault is it that he was moved on after an alleged clash with the manager?

Darby - Never usedThen we get to Stephen Darby. Darby has been at the club since a youngster, won the youth Cup twice, captained the reserves to the reserve league title and won the club’s young player of the year. What though, exactly, has the lad got to do to get a chance? What is the point of him being at the club? The manager clearly has no faith in him and would prefer to play a player who has never played the position in his life there instead.

It’s disheartening for the player himself and im sure the senior members of the squad, Carragher and Gerrard, can see he deserves a chance. Carragher touched on something in his autobiography about poor quality foreign squad players being signed when the young lads in the reserves are just as, it not better, than them (Degen vs Darby in this case).

Fair enough, manager’s can get team selection wrong, but what we’d all like to see is Benitez realise the mistake and correct it. It was abundantly clear early on Skrtel was uncomfortable there but did he change it? Did he bollocks, not till it was too late and Downing was well on the way to winning man-of-the-match and single handedly winning the match for Boro.

As for those questioning why Carragher didn’t simply play there, well he did so against Everton the other week and afterwards admitted he was knackered. He doesn’t have the legs to play full back, especially at this stage of the season and barely 3 days after playing in the Bernabeu. Full back requires a lot more running than centre back too – and why should we be moving our first choice centre back to right back when Arbeloa gets injured? We shouldn’t, the manager should have natural cover, that’s his fault. He has to be accountable.

SkrtelAnother man I feel sorry for, alongside Darby, is Skrtel. Christ, the guys been playing out his skin in the centre so must have been a bit bewildered by being asked to play right back all of a sudden. Like many of Rafa’s decisions this sense, there was no logic.

There’s supporting a manager and there’s just blind faith and lunacy; the mistakes are glaring, no matter what some people say, it is like the end of the Houllier era all over again with mediocre players making up the rest of the squad.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Rafa turn it around – somehow – and give us a decent finish to the season (don’t call it a title challenge, it never was) then sort it out over the summer, on and off the pitch, and actually have a real title challenge next season. It’s just that scenario looks about as likely as United throwing the title away this season.

Benitez’s biggest mistake has been making the last couple of months about himself and not the football club; if he’d have kept his mouth shut, concentrated on the football and left all contract talks till the end of the season who knows where we might be now. Instead we’ve been turned into a circus, and while Coco the Clown is soon to be gone, Rafa is looking more and more the ringmaster.