Finnan Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Benayoun Gerrard Alonso Kewell
Noble 90+3’ (pen)
It can’t get much worse, can it?
0-0 all game long, and unfortunately you could have written the script from past performances. Neither side had a shot on target in the first half, but Liverpool was better in the second half and actually creating chances, most notably through Lucas soon after he came on (for Kewell in the 61st) and Torres in the 73rd minute (saved by Green’s foot). Obviously, none were taken. Wiley missed a handball by Lucas Neill in the 79th minute. And then Carragher gave up an unnecessary penalty in the third minute of stoppage time, which Noble scored despite Reina going the right way.
That’s the third penalty Carragher’s given up this season (tackle on Hunt against Reading and handball against Villa in the first match of the season), and again it’s a freak goal that spoils any hopes of a result. This time it’s compounded by the fact it came with the last kick of the game and during a stretch where Liverpool can’t buy a win. By itself, an unlucky loss at West Ham thanks to a late penalty isn’t the end of the world, and yes, West Ham did play well, but in the context of the last month it couldn’t be worse.
There’s little point singling out players’ performances. Everyone, anyone, needs to stand up and be counted. Lucas helped to change the game after he came on and was unlucky not to score with one of his opportunities, but once again, there’s little to be happy with and little evidence of any progress. Or cohesion. Or desire. Or the team that looked to be going in the right direction until all this turmoil started. This is exactly the time you’d think the players would rally around the manager and fight for the club, but it’s not happening.
I don’t know if the players are unsettled by the Klinsmann talk or if they’ve just lost faith in Benitez, but every time out it seems more and more like the team isn’t responding to Rafa. As much as I want Benitez to succeed and fear the ramifications should he leave, when you’ve lost the team you’ve got no chance. I have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, and that makes me as sick as the results on the pitch.
This is becoming uncannily like the last days of Houllier, which is a phrase I never thought I’d write. Worse than the similarity to Houllier’s end, it’s also starting to look like the downfall of Leeds, although by no means am I ready to draw that comparison yet. But how much of one it is we’ll soon see.
Liverpool has regressed to where they were in Rafa’s first season: in the fight for fourth, 17 points behind the league leaders. Right now the team sits in 7th with 40 points, 3 points behind Everton in 4th with a game in hand (against today’s opponents). Compare the squads between the two seasons and it’s hard to explain how that’s possible.
And fourth place is that last money-spinning Champions League place. In 2005, fifth wasn’t the end of the world because Liverpool qualified for Europe by winning the Champions League and wasn’t so dependent on Champions League revenue. Now I’m downright frightened what havoc a failure to qualify would wreak on a club loaded with debt, a budget dependent on European competition, and a £300m stadium due to be built.
I do believe Liverpool will get fourth. But at this rate, that has to be the fan and optimist in me, because we haven’t seen any evidence of it in 2008.
Nota Bene: For more on the debt, please read this comprehensive post by ttnbd on RAWK. At times frightening, other times reassuring, it could not be more thorough. Plus, even I could follow it, despite the fact that I'm a financial imbecile.