Monday, January 21, 2008

Changes Must be Made at Liverpool

If you had just walked into the room and didn’t know the score of today’s game between Aston Villa and Liverpool and saw the way Peter Crouch wheeled off to the corner after scoring an 88th minute goal, you’d probably think that he just won the Premier League for the Reds. In reality, the 6′7″ striker simply levelled the game for Liverpool at 2-2.

This, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with Liverpool right now. The players and fans are satisfied with draws when they should win and losses when they should pick up a point. I’m not seeing any killer instinct from this team; they play the exact same way in the 17th minute that they do in the 81st minute, and quite frankly, that’s an uninspired style of soccer.

Rafael Benitez is–and here’s that word again–one of the most uninspiring, boring managers on the face of the earth. Every time the camera pans to him on the sideline, he’s bringing his arms closer together and screaming the word “compact” at his players. Hmm, compact. Compact like Steven Gerrard going out to play right back or left wing like he did today? No, I think not. That’s how you know something has to change. I think Rafa has lost the team in many respects. Liverpool’s fans will tell you that it was Rafa who won the Champions League for them in Istanbul a couple seasons ago, but they’re wrong. It was Steven Gerrard who led Liverpool to their fifth European Cup (…”18 leagues, that’s what we call history”…you’re right, it is HISTORY, it certainly isn’t the present) by putting the team on his back and carrying them to that historical comeback.

Say what you want about Liverpool’s American owners, say that they’re a huge distraction and that they don’t have the club’s best interests at heart, whatever. Here’s the reality of the situation. The owners have NOTHING to do with what happens on the field. Last time I checked, and I can go back and watch the game again, but Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gillett weren’t playing for Liverpool when they drew with Wigan at home, drew with Birmingham at home, drew with Spurs at home, and lost at Reading. Notice a theme here? A championship-caliber team like Liverpool and their fans claim themselves to be don’t draw in those type of games and they certainly don’t lose. I could care less what you have to say about the owners as it relates to Liverpool FC on the field because these are professional players, they get paid very handsomely to play a GAME, to play 90 minutes. When they’re between the touchlines, they don’t have the club’s owners in their minds; the only thing they’re thinking about is the game itself.

The owners aren’t going to leave even though that’s what most of the fans want (they want DIC apparently, good for them). Fans in England and across Europe don’t seem to understand the concept that owners don’t actually have to support their club. That’s not to say that the owners don’t want what’s best for the club, but the club isn’t like a childhood team that they rooted for; the club is a business enterprise in which they can make money, nothing more. Things aren’t like they used to be in your parents’ generation when clubs truly cared about their fans and the owners and chairmen were diehard supporters.

There’s something in the Red section of Merseyside when a draw at home against Aston Villa is considered to be a good result. Don’t get me wrong, Aston Villa are an impressive young side but a team as good as Liverpool say they are would win that game. Manchester United throttled Villa 4-1 earlier in the season. Liverpool simply aren’t good enough this year, that’s just a fact. It’s no anomaly that after 22 games, more than halfway through the season, that teams are where they are in the standings. Liverpool are the 5th best team in the Premier League but when you look at the actual talent on the roster, they should be no worse than 4th and possibly even 3rd.

This is why I believe Rafa has to go and I can’t put it any simpler than that. Liverpool have enough talent and capability to be so much better than they have been this year, and I put that squarely on Rafa’s shoulders. When a manager can’t blend a roster and shape it in a style that allows for the most possible success, he isn’t doing his job. I don’t believe for a second that the players enjoy playing for him because he’s one of the least friendly, distant managers I’ve ever seen. There’s a reason you hear Aston Villa’s players come out publicly and sing the praises of Martin O’Neill and that’s because they like playing for him; O’Neill takes the time to forge a relationship with his players beyond the soccer field and they respect that, whereas I’ve never once seen a Liverpool player back Benitez in that same fashion. There’s a reason you hear players at Manchester United talk about what a joy it is to play for Sir Alex Ferguson and players at Portsmouth do the same about Harry Redknapp, but you don’t hear Jamie Carragher or Steven Gerrard talk about Rafa in such a positive light.

If you’re a Liverpool fan, take a step back from the Rafalogy cult you’ve subscribed to and look at the situation your club is in. In a season that held high hopes and one in which Benitez stated that the Premiership title was his main goal, you’re in 5th place, 14 points behind Manchester United. You’ve crashed out of the Carling Cup and have been fortunate to draw the teams you’ve drawn in the FA Cup. You’ve got a tie against the second most impressive team in Europe this season in Inter Milan in the Champions League coming up and I’m not you’ll come out of that and advance. You’ve got a captain and center midfielder in Steven Gerrard who clearly, clearly isn’t buying into the system Rafa wants to employ.

Someone has to go, changes have to be made. It’s not going to be the owners and it’s not going to be Steven Gerrard, which means Rafa’s head is on the chopping block and the switch could be pressed at any moment.

Something has to be done, what’s it going to be?

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