COS contributor Aquaman takes a close look at a truly horrible season.
One game remains in Liverpool’s most atrocious season of the decade.
Defeat after defeat has bred a passive resignation into the support
base and the players alike. Target after target slipped by until even
the worst case scenario passed by. But it is nearly over at last and
many a fan is forever grateful for that if nothing more.
The most recent failure was against Chelsea at Anfield where the reds
collapsed to a 2-0 loss after looking the more likely to score in a
stalemate first half. In many ways this defeat was a classic example
of Liverpool’s form all season. Every weakness was on show and
Liverpool were made to suffer for it. Let me explain what I mean.
Firstly and most obviously was the staggering number of injuries that
the reds had to deal with. Their injury list was made up of six
players, excluding Kuyt and N’Gog who came into the game carrying
knocks, and included four first team players. They also started the
game with no natural fullbacks fit and only one fully fit striker (who
has played more games as a winger than a striker in each of the last
three seasons). Add Maxi and Carragher to the list and you end up with
a post Chelsea injury list of eight players. In fact only five players
played in last season’s victorious fixture (Pepe Reina, Steven
Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt). To make
matters worse: one of these five went off injured (Carragher) and
another played the whole game out of position as well (Mascherano).
While injuries can be blamed, the truth is that the squad should be
strong enough, and large enough, to deal with the injured. Liverpool’s
biggest problem is up front. Only one natural striker is simply not
good enough. N’Gog is only 20 years old, and Kuyt is confused after
playing winger for so long. Also Johnson has no real competition at
right back, and neither does Insua since Aurelio lives on a stretcher.
Then there are a total of three wingers (one of whom arrived in the
summer, and one should be a striker) and four midfielders for three
positions. In fact the only positions where Liverpool are properly
covered are centre back and goal keeper.
The squad problem is largely down to the shocking owners that
Liverpool have endured for the last four years. With Rafa’s net spend
for the last three seasons sitting at 13 million pounds, it’s little
wonder that their squad is so malnourished. In fact that net spend is
less than Chelsea, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Stoke City,
Sunderland, Wolves and Birmingham City spent in this one season alone.
In a table of spending we would sit 15th for 09/10 (with Man United,
Arsenal and Blackburn below us thanks to the ridiculous spending of
Real Madrid and Manchester City – although we also profitted from this
so fair’s fair I suppose).
Next we have the biggest surprise of the whole season: Steven Gerrard.
The Gerrard of this season is completely unrecognisable to me. I first
noticed the bad vibes against Everton at Goodison park waaaay back in
November. It was the most un-derby-like showing that I can ever
remember from the man. Ambling around the pitch and missing passes
have been the cornerstones of his performances this season. I hate
saying this, I really do, but I have often wondered whether it should
be a choice of either Lucas or Gerrard every game rather than Lucas or
Mascherano. Yes, Gerrard has really been that bad.
This leads me neatly into the next problem: Rafa Benitez’s shoddy man
management. A lack of form should be taken care of by the manager.
That’s his job, isn’t it? Managers manage people. Alonso is another
casualty of Rafa’s unique brand of management. Would the season have
been better had Alonso been there? Maybe. Probably not much though.
But Rafa’s man management has remained steadfast. Did you see the tiny
shake of the head Aquilani gave when he was called off the pitch? A
discounted 20 million pound player is still treated as the last option
irrespective of his performances. It’s especially frustrating when a
player like Gerrard is clearly not even trying and yet Aquilani is
still pulled off first. That’s just plain wrong.
On that note we have Rafa’s crazy substitutions. This is the third
game out of five that Rafa has killed off any chance we had with one
sub. Against Birmingham he pulled off Torres when we needed a goal
(although N’Gog did look more threatening, he doesn’t have Torres’
class). Against Fulham he pulled off Aquilani when what was needed was
more creativity, not less. Now, against Chelsea, he pulled off
Aquilani, again, who looked to be the only player (other than Reina
and Mascherano) who actually looked like they wanted to win. And he
was the only one of the three who had the skills to pull off a
miracle. His shot that clipped the bar could so very easily have put
Liverpool in the lead. And what a goal it would have been!
Finally we have the hardest of the reasons. Anfield was deathly quiet
all game. It’s a fair point to say that the players are supposed to
earn the respect of the fans, but, dammit, this is Liverpool; the club
known internationally for its fantastic fans who stick with the team
through thick and thin. This season has seen that fanbase at its most
divided though. After every game, be it a win or a loss, there will
always be someone ready to criticise, nitpick, flame and deride either
another fan or specific players on the field. If the fans are not
behind the players then there is only so much they can do. People
speak of the twelfth man at Anfield but these days there’s a twelfth
and thirteenth man but they are so busy fighting one another that the
players don’t even notice.
Now is when all of the Kop dwellers will start saying “Next season
will be our season”. Maybe that will turn out to be true, but there
are several big hurdles to be overcome first.