It is not often that a beach ball is the most talked about item of a Premier League weekend but that was what happened this week. It was such a bizarre situation and one that would be extremely difficult to replicate if one was so inclined. It was revealed after the game that referee should have disallowed the goal and ordered a drop ball but in all honesty where is the fun in that? Another point to note was that it was a Liverpool fan who threw the ball onto the pitch, no doubt he felt a tad sheepish afterwards.
What the incident did do was gloss over the fact that Liverpool are struggling to maintain a title challenge with some arguing they are already out of the hunt. Whilst that may be going too far – it is only October after all – it is clear all is not well at Anfield. There is a school of thought that would suggest if Liverpool had not won the 2005 Champions League final in that epic contest in Istanbul, Benitez would already be out of a job. That victory gave him an early legitimacy that he has been able to use ever since.
The Anfield crowd have always stood by the Spaniard but after Tuesday’s home defeat to Lyon when they openly booed his decisions perhaps having lost faith. That defeat has left Liverpool struggling to qualify for the latter stages which for a club with such a European tradition as theirs is clearly not good enough. Benitez supporters would point to injuries to Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres but he has been in charge for five years for Liverpool’s squad to still be so weak compared to their rivals.
Young striker David Ngog looks a decent prospect but how has Benitez allowed him to be his only option if Torres is out? Xabi Alonso’s decision to join Real Madrid and Benitez bringing in the injured and untested Alberto Aquilani is looking stranger by the game. There are other problems, the lack of a quality left-back in the entire squad, no genuine pace on the wings and the conundrum of Ryan Babel. When Liverpool signed him he was going to be the next big thing. Either he has regressed beyond repair or he was overrated in the first place. The most damning statistic against the Benitez reign is that he has signed a mammoth 67 players during his time at the club. There have been successes, Torres, Pepe Reina, Alonso, Javier Mascherano have more than proved their worth but the likes of Josemi, Robbie Keane, Mark Gonzalez, Momo Sissoko and Jermaine Pennant certainly did not. Hicks and Gillet did not provide much money for Rafa this season but there has been money in the past and it has not always been spent wisely.
Yet having said all this would anyone be surprised if Liverpool beat United on Sunday? Last season they beat them twice – 4-1 at Old Trafford and 2-1 at Anfield – the latter in a game where they did not have Gerrard and Torres on the pitch. A win would give them a real boost that would erase the memory of their recent poor form. A defeat probably does not bear thinking about.
On a side note Jamie Carragher has come in for some criticism this season with some suggesting that he is no longer the player he was once was. Carragher has never relied on pace but he has made some high profile mistakes recently. For all he has achieved at the club, he deserves a chance to prove that he is merely suffering from a dip in form.
Two other managerial vacancies aroused interest this week as both Middlesbrough and Grimsby decided to change manager. Gareth Southgate getting sacked was something of a surprise with his team sitting near the top of the Championship. The story grew even more intriguing with the rumour that Southgate’s replacement will be none other than Gordon Strachan. Whatever you may think of the wee Scot’s managerial ability, his press conferences are usually a riot.
Lower down the football league ladder Grimsby dispensed of the services of their manager Mike Newell and early speculation had Hope Davis as a candidate for the job. Hope Davis of course being the female manager of the England ladies team. The Mariners have since distanced themselves from the rumour however what a story that could have been. Could a woman really succeed in such a male driven sport? Karen Brady would say yes. Although going on previous comments the departing Newell would surely disagree.
A Different Week
Michael Owen’s move reminiscent of The Boss – July 10
The City Circus – July 17
Beckham – End of an American dream? – July 24
Trouble at the Toon – July 31
Chester’s plight reflective of modern ways – August 7
What will happen – August 14
Joleon Lescott and the ugly side of a modern professional player – August 21
Defoe is Jermain man – August 28
Deadline day disappoints – September 4
Mixed fortunes for home nations, mixed treatment for English clubs? – September 11
Did Adebayor go too far or did we overreact? – September 18
A matter of race in the beautiful game’s ugly side – September 25
Managing the job – October 2
Arrested development – Fergie rants, youngsters Baxter and Osbourne in trouble – October 9
England’s golden generation… – October 16
Deflating times at Liverpool – October 23