Club Focus – Liverpool – Character assassination

Liverpool supporters have been through a range of emotions this season, with each one seemingly closer to depression than the last. Rarely, if ever, have they felt pity for their players. These well-paid, under-performing individuals have let their club, supporters and manager down for the vast majority of the campaign.

Rafael Benitez was forced to pick the most shadowy of shadow sides at Stoke. On both wings stood injury-prone full backs who the manager had signed on free transfers, there was a makeshift look to the defence. The only creativity from midfield was to come from a Brazilian who only turned 23 last week, yet who has been written off more times than a nervous 17-year-old’s first car. Lucas played well at the Britannia Stadium, yet his only reward was a yellow card for ‘simulation’ when all of the 27,000 people in the stadium– and the millions watching worldwide, including Benitez – expected referee Lee Mason to point to the penalty spot. The Liverpool manager should learn that there is no way to keep to your dignity when complaining about officials, but the continually puzzling decisions made by Mason against Liverpool are difficult to ignore. Three of the four players he has sent off this season have been representing the Reds, and his latest faux pas hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the Liverpool manager. As mentioned above, you won’t find much sympathy for Benitez and Liverpool’s plight in the wider football world, but they’ve undoubtedly been on the receiving end of some very poor decisions – the failure to get penalties against Arsenal, Aston Villa and now here come to mind. Indeed, you can trace it back to David Ngog’s dive in the Birmingham City box in November. Have the Reds been paying for it ever since?

The fact that it was Sotirios Kyrgiakos who got on the scoresheet was fitting in more ways than one. More than any other player in the squad, the Greek represents the transfer restrictions imposed upon Benitez by his American bosses. The Spaniard wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the 30-year-old former Glasgow Rangers defender if he had substantial money to spend in the summer. In a perfect world he would have snapped up top target Matthew Upson, but with a severely limited budget that basically amounted to spending what the club could generate through player sales, Benitez turned to the 55-times capped defender for £1.5m. The word ‘rugged’ could have been invented for Kyrgiakos, and on Saturday he manfully repelled most of what Stoke City threw at him. It was never going to be a day when pretty, easy-on-the-eye football stood out (one look at both team-sheets gave that away ,) but in displaying character, fight and a pride in the shirt – qualities typified by the big Greek defender – the Reds at least won back a few fans who were so dismayed by the awful performance against Reading. Many people had Stoke down as easy winners before kick-off, and everything about the build-up to the game only encouraged that theory. Liverpool were never going to turn up at the Britannia Stadium and blow the home side away with excellent football, but at least they showed a courage that many people thought had long gone. This being the Reds though, there had to be a sting in the tail.

Robert Huth’s late equaliser could have one of two effects on this Liverpool team. Either it shatters the confidence and belief that they spent the vast majority of early Saturday afternoon building up, or it creates a new defiance, one that will have to be allied to better football if the Reds want to get a result when Spurs visit Anfield on Wednesday night. Confident men or con men? Tomorrow night will provide the answer.

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