Liverpool are grateful to a piece of trickery from Dirk Kuyt for helping them stay in the FA Cup beyond the first week of January, but – on the evidence of the performance at Reading’s Madejski Stadium – it’ll be an even greater illusion if the Reds are to pull off any sort of success this season.
Kuyt has always been highly skilled at timing his runs into a penalty area, and it was his deceiving of Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici – achieving that rare feat of providing the telling contribution to a goal without actually touching the ball – that allowed Steven Gerrard to cancel out a Simon Church effort, and while Liverpool weren’t exactly left praying that they could hang on to their hopes of a replay – the Reds did still have the better chances, despite what you may have read elsewhere – the display was far from vintage, and has once again thrown yet more questions onto a pile that it’s now surely impossible to see the summit of.
But this was the FA Cup, and so it could of course have been much worse. A draw against the Championship club from Berkshire – setting up an Anfield replay in just over a week’s time – could be put into context with, oh let’s say Manchester United’s home defeat to a League 1 club from Yorkshire around 20 hours later. Liverpool are still in the cup, and their chance to take on one of the second tier’s strugglers at home for the right to entertain Burnley should be looked upon as an opportunity to gain some goals and confidence, two lesser spotted attributes during this campaign, but then of course you think of Leeds and Old Trafford and realise just what could go wrong in this; a competition that the club are always desperate to do well in – regardless of where they are in the league.
So it’s another chance then, but what are plain to see are the problems – there is no amount of Kuyt-style deception that can disguise those, and seeing as it’s January and there are column inches to fill, Liverpool are being linked with all sorts of players who will – if you believe the tabloids – ‘save their season’, but as names are plucked out of thin air and links appearing day-by-day, what many are ignoring is Rafael Benitez’s miniscule budget with which to bid for players. If Kuyt sold a dummy to help the Reds score at the weekend, Benitez needs to sell some dummies in order to raise much needed funds, but who?
Andriy Voronin is a given. The Ukrainian forward hasn’t appeared on a Reds’ teamsheet ever since injuries thrust him into the starting line-up for the away game in Lyon at the start of November. Several missed chances later, and his stock amongst Reds’ supporters – already as low as the credibility of a Celebrity Big Brother contestant – had receded even more. If someone, anyone, can be found to take him off Liverpool’s hands then they’ll be welcomed with open arms, with a fee of between £1m and £2m surely acceptable for a free transfer signing who’s never looked comfortable at the club. The same goes for Philipp Degen, another free who’s mere presence at Anfield only serves to keep the club physios busy and to block the progress of young talents like Martin Kelly and Stephen Darby, the latter of whom was excellent at Reading, whilst Andrea Dossena will depart sooner rather than later, thankfully leaving supporters with memories of last season’s goals against Real Madrid and Manchester United and not of any more damage done to an already leaky defence.
Those three moves could raise around £6m, not a substantial war-chest by any means but Benitez is used to that by now. Some wiggle room could be found with the possible sale of Ryan Babel, which looked a certainty just a few short weeks ago but is now shrouded in mystery, with the player agitating for a move but his manager showing a reluctance to offload him. You can understand Benitez’ predicament, there is a fine player lurking deep within the Dutchman – who only turned 23 last month – and if his attitude can be improved – a big if – then he’s surely worth hanging on to. A parting of the ways looks more likely though, sooner or later.
As for who comes in, well we’ll leave that up to the gossip columns to decide, although one name that looks more than likely to be added to the squad is that of Maxi Rodriguez, the Argentina international winger – scorer of that goal against Mexico at the last World Cup. He ticks all the boxes, seeing as he’s cheap, experienced and able to add some genuine width and attacking options to the squad. Maybe he can sell a dummy like Kuyt too. Let’s hope that the Dutchman has taught his manager a few things.