That’s another fine mess Liverpool have gotten themselves into. Last night’s defeat to Lyon puts qualification for the Champions League knockout rounds in serious jeopardy. The Reds have lost half their Premier League games and on Sunday ‘welcome’ Manchester United to Anfield. A home defeat to United, painful enough at any time, would represent a nadir – ‘big four’ teams are not meant to suffer like this, not in this day and age, and with Manchester City’s ominous rise Liverpool’s place in that quartet could be at risk. With finances precarious enough as things stand, missing out on next season’s Champions League money is not an option.
Turn this around and Rafa Benitez will have masterminded a comeback even greater than the Istanbul blockbuster. That night Liverpool dragged themselves to glory via adrenalin, force of personality and a generous portion of luck – those are reserves that can be drawn upon in the heat and fury of a cup final but which are rather more difficult to sustain over a full season. Liverpool’s problems need serious work, and Benitez accepted as much at last night’s press conference: “For me it is simple, I have to prepare for the next game. That is my job and I will do that… we have to be ready for our next game.”
Liverpool’s detractors have been quick to point out the club’s reliance on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. It’s perhaps unfair to call Liverpool a two-man team, and any team would suffer without its two primary attacking threats, but the duo’s recent absence just underlines the paucity of the Reds’ squad. David N’Gog and Andrei Voronin are game but lack the quality of, say, United’s backup strikers – N’Gog has yet to have the impact of Federico Macheda or Danny Wellbeck, and even if Michael Owen’s star has plummeted in recent years he’s still a better reserve option than Voronin.
Given the thinness of his striking options, Benitez’s decision to spend the best part of £40m on a right-back and a midfielder prone to injury is questionable. Neither seems a bad signing in itself – Glen Johnson gives Liverpool an attacking threat down the right that balances out Dirk Kuyt’s usual defensive-winger role, and a fit Alberto Aquilani will go some way to replacing Xabi Alonso – but signing two expensive players means the manager has wilfully left holes in his squad and gambled on the fitness of key players.
Benitez clearly resented having Robbie Keane thrust upon him but may now feel he was hasty in sending the Irishman back to Spurs at a hefty loss. Alonso, so good at setting the tempo and linking defence with attack, probably would have been tempted no matter what by Real Madrid’s summer Gal