Read­ing FA Cup loss should see Ben­itez get the An­field chop

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODWINES -

THE date and time of his ex­e­cu­tion is known to no man at this stage. None­the­less, the sense that Liver­pool man­ager Rafael Ben­itez is a dead man walk­ing was bru­tally un­der­lined by his team’s lat­est shoddy per­for­mance – de­feat to Read­ing is surely a loss too far for Ben­itez.

To look sec­ond best to Cham­pi­onship strug­glers Read­ing for most of the 120 min­utes of Wed­nes­day night’s FA Cup re­play, ought to have alarmed those in charge at An­field. As much, in fact, as the sight of thou­sands of empty seats in the sta­dium. This might not have been the Premier­ship but to see large swathes of the An­field seats un­oc­cu­pied was a salu­tary warn­ing that even Liver­pool’s loyal fol­low­ers are close to break­ing point.

It wasn’t just that Liver­pool were out-run and, quite of­ten, out-thought by a lower league team. There were other, even more dis­turb­ing signs on dis­play that the Liver­pool ship is floun­der­ing.

There was not a sem­blance of the au­thor­ity, con­trol and flow to be ex­pected from one of the sup­posed top sides. In par­tic­u­lar, Liver­pool’s fi­nal pass was sim­ply atro­cious.

There was not the slight­est pre­ci­sion in Liver­pool’s game. They looked what they have re­sem­bled all sea­son; a col­lec­tion of dis­parate el­e­ments, strangers brought to­gether with no real plan for co­he­sion or team un­der­stand­ing.

If Ben­itez is not re­spon­si­ble for this sham­bles, we are en­ti­tled to ask who is? As has been the case so of­ten this sea­son, once Fer­nando Tor­res and Steven Ger­rard were re­moved by in­jury from the side, Liver­pool looked like com­plete strangers.

Al­berto Aquilani, a hor­ri­ble £17 mil­lion waste of money by Ben­itez, seemed to lack fit­ness and, worse, de­sire. Dirk Kuyt ran, as he al­ways does, but to lit­tle ef­fect. Yossi Be­nay­oun tried to cre­ate but lacked ac­cu­racy at cru­cial mo­ments.

Peer­ing at this ut­ter sham­bles of a team, Ben­itez con­tin­ued to di­rect from the touch­line like some con­duc­tor who couldn’t hear the aw­ful off-key sounds of his own or­ches­tra. A team bereft for the most part of un­der­stand­ing and, even worse, com­mit­ment was over­run with em­bar­rass­ing ease by the rank out­siders.

Where Ben­itez found some of th­ese play­ers is a mys­tery. What on earth per­suaded him to squan­der so many mil­lions on such or­di­nary per­for mers is the ul­ti­mate in­dict­ment of his man­age­ment. When a team col­lapses in this alarm­ing man­ner, you can but look at the man in charge.

Rid­dled with debt, rid­dled with dis­course in the board­room and with a squad rid­dled with fail­ures, Liver­pool Foot­ball Club is stum­bling to­wards a night­mare.

You al­ways need im­pec­ca­ble rea­sons to sack a man­ager, es­pe­cially when such an act will cost your club mil­lions of pounds to pay up his con­tract. But Liver­pool have to act and do so ur­gently. Un­der Ben­itez, they are a club go­ing nowhere. Play­ers paid tens of thou­sands of pounds a week sim­ply have to do bet­ter than this to jus­tify their ex­is­tence.

Like­wise with the man­ager. Ben­itez has surely gone as far as he can at An­field. A com­plete re-think and player clear-out is re­quired. But sell­ing Tor­res may be the only way to do it.

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