By Paul O'Donnell
What Is Wrong with Liverpool?
If you’re a fan of soccer being played as it was meant to be played and would like to see Liverpool really challenge again for the EPL title you’ve got a long wait. Yes, I know, its already been 16 years since their last title, but it will be quite a while longer before there is any realistic chance for the Reds. Stevie G made a mistake if you ask me by staying with this Benitez team. He should have jumped ship, and you just might see him make a move next summer if this team doesn’t turn itself around and very soon.
After 12 games Liverpool is 9th and frankly thats higher than they should be the way they have been playing. For that matter, unless things change quickly they won’t remain in the top 10 much longer.
Why? To set the stage for part of the answer to that question the results so far illustrate that the real bottom line as to why they find themselves where they are is in the numbers. In this case the stats don’t lie, they tell the real story. Liverpool has failed to win a match on the road. They have scored only 14 goals and conceded 15 for a startlingly poor goal difference of -1 through the first 12 games of the season. To contrast how bad that is Manchester United has scored 27 (just one shy of twice as many as Liverpool) while conceding only 5; one third as many as the Reds. And there you have the tale of the tape that has ManU on top and Liverpool 14 points behind at this stage. ManU is +22 GD while Liverpool is -1.
With that in mind it is not at all surprising that Liverpool is 5-2-5 (W-D-L) for 17pts and ManU is 10-1-1 for 31pts. If things don’t change dramatically for Liverpool they will finish the season 50pts or more behind the title winner. Don’t forget when they won the Champions League trophy they finished 5th in the EPL 35pts behind Chelsea. The message? Liverpool is not improving and will never challenge for the title in the EPL at this rate. They’re simply not good enough. And neither is Benitez.
And that point came through in the heavily hyped showdown with Arsenal this past weekend. As a fan of Liverpool I settled back to watch every minute of it as I truly do not like Arsenal and my hopes were that I’d see the Reds pin their ears back at the Gunners new palace the Emirates Stadium. The match became my reason to put off raking leaves as I was looking forward to Liverpool stepping up. It didn’t happen.
Liverpool was never in the game and were well and soundly beaten by Arsenal despite the Gunners being without some of their better players. Benitez, despite the previous match that saw him play Gerrard at his favored and more dangerous position in the center of the midfield had him back out on the right wing again where he rarely sees the ball. When he did in this match his attempts at a cross or even a pass to sustain the little pressure they were able to mount ended in poor execution or turning the ball over. I’ve commented on this move previously and believe by that selection Benitez weakens his team’s attack. Need I mention that Liverpool rarely threatened and took it on the chin in a very disappointing 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal.
It was a horrible display for Liverpool. So bad, that I gave up on watching it and went to rake some leaves before the opening half was even over. Yes, it was that bad and I needed to take out some of the frustration on those darn leaves.
Benitez and his constant fiddling with his starting 11 seems to have his team in a funk and few of his players, as experienced as they are, seem to be able to adapt. If you have a chance to watch a replay of it you’ll see Gerrard drift toward the center on attack, his natural desire. As a defender is forced to move up to take that wide spot where Gerrard was it looks as if Liverpool is building a good attack. The result is they end up clogging the middle with more bodies especially if they don’t use that wide position yet they constantly try to force the ball up the middle and the attack is blunted time and time again as the move falls apart with little danger to goal. It happened that way far too often.
Much of that is of course credit to Arsenal’s defense. It is also in large part a result of Liverpool making bad choices and not seeing or taking advantage of what the defense is doing too. It is also one result of Benitez and his constant fiddling with the lineup as the team is never settled and with all the parts being moved in and out game after game they simply don’t know who is there, or what his tendency might be or what to expect in a given situation. The attack sputters and eventually falls apart completely and the next thing you know we’re going the other way and the ball is in the back of your net and not the other guys.
Benitez next best move to correct for this? Bring on a bunch of those spirited guys from Burnley, Oldham or Tranmere might be a good move (I’m joking). Or, how about going hard for Sean Wright-Phiilips (I’m not joking about this one)? As a fan I can dream. SWP is wasting away at Chelsea and we could use his help at Liverpool thats for certain.
Surely, the key seems to be for him to find his best 12 or 13 players and stop this 3 or more changes game after game. And please Mr. Benitez, get Gerrard back in the center of midfield where he belongs and let him roam. He likes it that way and so do the fans of Liverpool because it makes the Reds a more dangerous team to their opponents.
Mr. Benitez; when you put Stevie G out there on the wing you might just as well have him sitting next to you on the bench the way things are going this year. You do the defense a favor when you play him out there. Get him back where he makes your team stronger and more threatening. If you do put him out there then Fowler must be on the pitch at the same time.
It matters. It really does.
The only good thing fans of Liverpool can see from the present situation is that we will soon see Benitez going back to La Liga and hopefully he will take some of his failed Spanish imports with him. The reality is, the only thing he has on his side at this point is that CL win.
But you know what, and I said this at the time, that was a gift! Recall: the goal that never was that eliminated Chelsea. The makeup penalty call given after the Reds were embarrassed in the opening 45 by AC Milan in the CL final that had them down 3-0 at the half. That gave them a chance and credit to them that they took it and went on to win in penalties. But, the truth is, they would not have been in that game either after that poor opening 45 were it not for that penalty call.
It wasn’t Benitez and his brilliance that had anything to do with it. Once the players were given that opening they took it and made it count. Credit to them for that. Remember too that in that same season they were only good enough for 5th in the EPL and were 35pts behind Chelsea at the end. Since, they have made no progress towards challenging Chelsea, or this season Man United. The way things look right now they’re going the other way.
If you give Benitez credit for that CL success, and Liverpool’s board surely does, their failure to advance in the league is on Benitez too.