Thursday, 11 February 2010

Has Benitez Dodged The Bullet?

The position of Rafael Benitez, as manager of Liverpool, has been the subject of constant speculation almost since that opening-day defeat at White Hart Lane. He must be thanking his lucky stars that he signed a new five-year deal less than twelve months ago!
While Liverpool currently lie in 4th position, in fulfilment of the Champions League promise Benitez made, it cannot disguise the reality of Liverpool’s complete disaster of a season. At the time of writing, Man City hold the same number of points, with two games in hand. I know who my money is on, and they don’t play in red. With Liverpool’s recent improvement in form, it may seem foolish to ask questions of Benitez. He is well within his rights to claim that his side have turned the corner. However, it should never have come to this.
By the time the final whistle blew on Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth in December, Liverpool had lost eight of eighteen league games. They were out of the League Cup, out of the Champions League, and soon to be dumped out of the FA Cup. It was never going to get much worse than that. Even Graeme Souness has managed to steer Liverpool to an FA Cup victory, and as a Newcastle fan, I can testify to his, shall we say, questionable managerial skills!
Any other club would have kicked Benitez out long ago, and while the Reds have steadily climbed the table in recent weeks, the performances have remained, at best, workmanlike. The impressive run of clean sheets has been the foundation for this, with the creatively still somewhat lacking. What was Alberto Aquilani’s £20m arrival supposed to bring? That’s right - creativity. While it is right to allow the Italian time to adapt to the English game, what Benitez needed in the summer was an immediate return on any investment made, particularly with the departure of Alonso. Perhaps wiser choices could have been made.
The defeat to Arsenal summed up the problem Liverpool have right now. While their defence is good enough to withstand many Premier League attacks, the trip to the Emirates was a step too far. Even an Arsenal side nowhere near their best was able to fight off a toothless Liverpool. Even with the solid defensive performances of Carragher & co, the Anfield outfit still did not see fit to attack Arsenal, and finish them off. Instead, pressure was invited, and the points were thrown away.
Such negativity has been the defining characteristic of Liverpool this season, and it will surely cost them their top 4 place. Benitez is a very fortunate man, not only because of the lengthy contract he signed last season, but the financial crisis that has engulfed the English game. The current fiascos surrounding Portsmouth and West Ham have deflected attention away from his ineptitude for now, but we may well see Rafa’s position under the microscope yet again by May.
Should Liverpool fall short of the top 4, his position would be untenable. A very public promise was made, if he cannot deliver this, he would be well advised to resign before the bullet finally finds its target.

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