Does Benitez have a suitable eraser?

I know of at least two of India’s railway ministers – Lal Bahadur Shastri and Nitish Kumar – who resigned from their posts after bad train accidents. Obviously neither of them was personally culpable for the accidents but, both being gentlemen – with a reputation of being able administrators to boot – decided that the ultimately the buck stopped with them and therefore quit their posts. This is not to say that I think Benitez should do the same after last week’s disastrous back-to-back defeats but to say that if he did resign, it would be more of a gentlemanly admission of his responsibility rather than an admission of his inability to manage a top flight club. There is no doubt in my mind that he has taken Liverpool forward since taking over from Houllier, but that is only a half truth. Since the reality of the modern world is that all of us, like the Red Queen, have to keep running to stay in the same place, the real question is whether we’re running hard enough to outpace others or are others outpacing us? While I’m loath to pass a judgement on this question based on just one bad season, current evidence suggests we’re falling behind.

Honestly, at this point, I do not feel that we’re going to make it to the Champs League next year. If City win their two games in hand, they would be a good 7 points clear with 9 to play. Yes, they perhaps have a slightly tougher run-in, but overhauling 7 points still seems like a hard ask. In fact, if Villa win their games in hand too, then we’ll be struggling to qualify for Europe (assuming only the top six make it), particularly considering that we still have a trip to Birmingham to come. Of course, the complicated nature of the English fixture list makes predictions even harder since many teams have 2 or even 3 games in hand over Liverpool. One hopes that by early April, the fixture list will become a little clearer and one can do a more detailed run-in analysis.

What’s more, going by whatever I read, we don’t even seem to deserve to make it to that fourth place – which to me is more galling than the fact that we may or may not make it. How can a team that swept all before it towards the end of last season suddenly become a quivering mass of jelly that seems to think that the football is likely to explode any moment in its face? Was Xabi Alonso like the adroitly placed pin in Rekha’s dress in Utsav, which when removed unravelled what she was wearing? There was no reason to believe that was the case, but results so far seem to suggest otherwise and there is precious little time left in this season to change the perception.

If the recent performances of Gerrard and the inability of players to find their team mates with a pass were cause enough for concern, Torres has now fuelled the fire by being ambiguous about his future. As yet, I don’t think he will go or want to go, but a few more performances where he is isolated up top and he might as well look for better company. Rafa’s treatment of Aquilani continues to be a mystery and the limitations of Aurelio and Insua at left back are now known to all, while Lucas continues to be just short of the quality one would expect at Liverpool. If one has to optimistically pessimistic, I think the best case scenario within a terrible season ending scenario would be if we tied down the ‘stars’ like Mascherano and Reina also to long term contracts before the season ends so that we’d at least get decent packets of money if we had to flog some of them.

The writing’s clearly on the wall. The question is: does Benitez have a suitable eraser or is it written in indelible ink? Well, the next week will provide some clues what with the supposed home banker against Portsmouth, the tie against Lille to be turned around and then the visit to the home of ye olde enemy. Last year, it was after the abject defeat to Middlesborough that Liverpool went on that amazing run, as if it took that defeat for Rafa to unleash the team’s attacking instincts. Dare one hope for a repeat after an arguably even more abject defeat at Wigan?

PS: As is probably obvious, this post was written before the Liverpool-Portsmouth game (14th Mar 2010). 2 wins and a loss from the 3 games listed above is not a bad return but wish it was better …

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