Liverpool’s spine begins to crumble
AS LIVERPOOL supporters walked along the Thames to Craven Cottage on Saturday one was heard expressing his concer n over this fixture, adding, sardonically: “That’s the beauty of our team now, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Beaten by a beach ball a fortnight ago, easy victors against the champions last week and then the calamitous defeat to Fulham, this season’s Liverpool are in the middle of a bewildering run that must infuriate a control freak like Rafael Benitez.
Unpredictability may be exciting, but everyone at the club pines for the days when they remorselessly ground out wins. That was a generation ago, and last season’s close pursuit of Manchester United already seems a false dawn in the quest to regain old glories.
Injuries have exposed a lack of depth in Benitez’s expensively assembled squad with the XI fielded at Fulham including such wannabes and wastrels as Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Emiliano Insua, Philipp Degen and Andrei Voronin.
By the end they had been joined by Nathan Eccleston, Daniel Ayala and Ryan Babel.
But the weakness of the fringe players and supporting cast is only part of the problem, there are also concerns about a once formidable spine.
In Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, Liverpool had a backbone to match any in the game. Reina continues to shine but Alonso has gone, Mascherano, worn down by Argentina’s tempestuous World Cup qualifying campaign, is short of form, and Gerrard and Torres are afflicted by injury. Then there is Carragher. Fortunate not to be dismissed against United last week, when bringing down Michael Owen, he should have been sent off after an hour on Saturday for bringing down Bobby Zamora. In the event, his reprieve lasted only 20 minutes before the stand-in captain again found himself in the wrong side of Zamora.
Carragher and Benitez both insisted his dismissal was wrong, citing that Carragher got his foot to the ball as Zamora went down. He did, but had he not already been holding Zamora back with both arms the defender would never have been able to get near the ball.
Carragher is 31 now. He has been a marvellous stalwart for Liverpool, but is not getting any younger, or quicker. It may be the constant changing of partners – Kyrgiakos was his third this season – and their uncertainties have contribution to his dip in form.
Liverpool’s centre-halves are also being exposed by Benitez encouraging his full-backs to push forward more. Against Fulham, Degan was so advanced for much of this game that Carragher was often in the right-back position.
Liverpool have let in 16 in 11 league games, more than bottom club Portsmouth, and kept one clean sheet in their last eight Premier and Champions League games. Only Arsenal and Chelsea have scored more than Liverpool’s 25, but 14 of those were scored in three home matches against Stoke, Burnley and Hull.
RED ALERT: Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez substitutes star striker Fernando at Craven Cottage ... the rest is history – a sixth defeat in seven games for the Reds.