Friday, October 05, 2007

Are Liverpool Missing Pako?

Liverpool might have all eyes on the Premier League this season, but does that mean they should playing in the champions league in the manner they have been lately? I really don’t think it’s a matter of the Premier League being their sole priority; they just aren’t playing well, Period. As one fan puts it, “we haven’t played well since we beat Derby”.

Now, as a Liverpool supporter I am inclined to support the club no matter how good or bad the performance and results, but as a supporter I’m also inclined the right to criticize and axe the players when they don’t give their expected best. After all, they are getting paid big just to please us fans. But Liverpool has been a different team lacking in creativity and fire power and becoming far too predictable lately. They simply are not up to scratch, giving the ball away so cheaply and lacking the passion that comes along with putting on the red shirt. Something is definitely not right, and Rafa should get to the end of it and sort it out before it’s too late.

I checked out the message boards on the official Liverpool site ( and saw some interesting raised questions. One topic stated: “How much are we missing Xabi?” Now no one can deny how instrumental Alonso, with his slick passing and fluidity, has been to Liverpool in previous seasons. But that was before the arrival of Argentinean international Javier Mascherano, who has been on many occasions favored in the middle of the park alongside none other than Captain Steven Gerrard. Of course every game has a different approach to it and I’m not stating that Mascherano is any better than Alonso; I’m just making a point that we do have a qualified replacement, should Xabi get injured, as is the case now.

Is the reason for poor results then due to the Daniel Agger’s injury that put on hold a great partnership with Carragher, bringing back long but aging servant Sami Hyypia into the foray? Again, I believe the answer to be NO, for if injuries were to be used as an alibi for poor results, then only keeper Pepe Reina gets my vote (God forbid).

Rafael Benitez is today considered one of world’s best known and successful managers thanks to his European campaign results. But could the master plan that beat off the likes of Juventus, Chelsea, AC Milan and Barcelona all have come from one brain? Or was there more to Rafa Benitez than buying his wife a watch whenever he wins a final? Was his success depending on how much transfer money he received? But then we have to remember that he did win the Champions League with a more-or-less average squad in his debut season.

The way I see it then, is that Liverpool has been going downhill in terms of performance since Rafa’s right hand man, Pako, chose to leave the club. Again the same sentence rings in my mind, “we haven’t played well since we beat Derby” Is it a case of players believing the hype that was spouted after that game? Is overconfidence going to make us struggle to get results? Or are we missing something since Pako left?

Something just isn’t right, and I hope Rafa admits his wrong-doing and brings back his long-term side kick on board, whom it has becoming blatantly obvious he can’t do without, and hopefully then we shall see Liverpool FC flying sky high in every competition.

Furious Benitez Vows To Crack The Whip On His Stars

Rafael Benitez has demanded his stunned Liverpool stars “show their character” in a spell of matches that could define their season.

As the Spanish coach surveyed the wreckage of a disastrous Champions League defeat by Marseille in front of a bemused Anfield, he knows a season that started with high expectations could soon be in total disarray.

Sunday sees the visit of Spurs in the Barclays Premier League, followed by a trip to neighbours Everton and the visit of impressive leaders Arsenal on October 28.

Sandwiched between the Everton and Gunners matches is their next Champions League trip to Istanbul and a clash with Besiktas.

A tough trip to Blackburn and the Besiktas return are Liverpool’s opening games in November.

No wonder Benitez insisted: “We must improve, we must show our character now.

“We know we have to do better. We showed character to get a draw against Porto when we did not play well, and we showed character to win at Wigan last weekend in a hard match.

“Now we must show character against Tottenham. That is our first priority after the Marseille result.”

Benitez’s tinkering with his squad again took the brunt of the criticism after the French side turned an impressive display into a well-deserved victory thanks to Mathieu Valbuena’s late winner.

Benitez opted for youngster Sebastian Leto on the left, refused to take off a woefully out-of-touch Mohamed Sissoko, while giving Peter Crouch the opportunity to justify his claims his form has suffered because of the manager’s rotation policy.

The Anfield chief has now made a staggering 62 changes to his side over 12 matches this term, and has used 34 substitutes.

Compare that with Sir Alex Ferguson’s changes this term at Manchester United and the difference is remarkable.

Before the United chief made wholesale alternations for the Carling Cup defeat by Coventry, and then a complete change back to his senior men for the next league match, he had made a total of just 12 changes to his side in eight matches.

But Benitez will not be moved on his rotation policy.

He said: “It is not the changes, it is big players not playing well.”

And he defended Leto and Sissoko, saying: “I chose Leto because he had been training well and he had played well in the Carling Cup on the left with Fabio Aurelio.

“I wanted to give him his chance because he had shown he was a player who could beat opponents with pace.

“But for me it is not right to talk about only one player, the whole team played badly.

“It is difficult to explain how a team of talented players like ours could give the ball away so much.

“Marseille played well, they pressed us hard and worked well. But we should have been able to create chances behind teams who attack and press like that.

“But we did not create any clear chances. We did have the options, but just failed to take advantage and you do not win if you do not create openings.”

He added: “I decided not to change Momo Sissoko. I wanted to substitute Leto to try something different and then I wanted to change the strikers, but had to alter my thinking because Aurelio had picked up an injury and had to come off.

“I was more concerned with doing different things up front, but it was a very bad day for everyone. I prefer not to point the finger at any one player. The whole team played badly.”

Benitez made no excuses for the dire display, saying: “We did not deserve anything. From the beginning, the team did not play well. We were giving the ball away, losing second balls and not winning possession up front.

“It is very difficult to win a game like that. It was worse than in Porto in our first group match.

“Out there, particularly in the second-half, the team was well organised and showed character. This time, maybe with some anxiety because we were playing at home, many things were wrong.

“We were trying to do too much, to do everything and we needed to be calm and do the things that we would usually have done.”

Liverpool must now return to the city of their fifth European Cup triumph two seasons ago to save this campaign.

Third in Group A and five points behind Marseille, with Porto second on four points, the Merseysiders have to win against Besiktas on October 24.

Benitez said: “We are now going to have to win an away game, certainly the next away game with Besiktas.

“We need points quickly. There has been talk of us needing 10 or 12 points to qualify. Forget all this, we must concentrate first on winning the next group match.

“That is the situation, not what may happen later in the group.”

Rafa, You're Letting Liverpool Fans Down

Sportsmail's Jim Mansell, a fervent but despairing Liverpool fan, pens an open letter to his club's manager after their humiliating Champions League defeat to Marseille at Anfield:

Dear Mr Benitez, I felt compelled to write to you following Liverpool's abject display against Marseille.

I have a fear that you are blind to the one key element which is vital to any successful team - consistency.

In my view the Champions League defeat on Wednesday hardly matters a jot - though not to qualify for the knockout stages would be humiliating enough - but was a clear manifestation of the problems thrown up by your baffling rotation system.

Let's be frank. Your changes are infuriating Liverpool fans. I haven't spoken to one who thinks it's the right policy or that it will win us the prize we most cherish - the Premier League.

We've been waiting since 1990 for a sniff of the Holy Grail - and gritted our teeth as Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have dominated.

They have done it by moulding teams which play at a high level of consistency. Barring loss of form and injury, the manager has picked virtually the same players week in, week out.

They became teams and a developed a pattern of play to suit.

Currently, this does not seem to apply to Liverpool. You made another bucketload of changes for the Marseille game from the team that scraped a 1-0 away win at Wigan. Not surprisingly, they played like strangers. As Robin van Persie said this week Arsenal benefit by having the same team because the players like it that way.

How can Crouch be expected to perform if he's hardly given a look-in? How can Torres be the 20-goals-a-season striker the team desperately needs if he's not in the starting line-up for games against the likes of Portsmouth and Birmingham? How can the midfield develop an understanding if it's chopped and changed so much?

I heard you say in an interview recently that your policy was designed to ensure the players were in peak fitness for the run-in to the Champions League and the title.

That's no good if the team are not in contention for either due to poor performances in the rest of the season.

Your summer buys gave us hope that the title would be a realistic target. The season started brightly. Don't let that flicker of hope be extinguished so quickly.

On behalf of all title-starved Liverpool fans, pick a team to win the league and stick with it.

You gave us a truly unbelievable triumph in Istanbul. And a memorably nerve-wracking FA Cup success. But, Mr. Benitez, we're desperate to be the best team in the Premier League.

What we can't stomach is a rotation policy which will see the names of just United, Chelsea and Arsenal on the Premier League trophy for another 17 years!