Degen Carragher Kyrgiakos Insua
Kuyt Voronin Benayoun
Once again, you have to be kidding me. Another delicious mix of awful luck, costly mistakes, fluke goals, and questionable substitutions. Benitez is going to come under a ton of stick, and I have absolutely no defense for him. We’re in full-on damage control mode. Wednesday could literally destroy this club.
23 minutes of solid pressure, and Liverpool’s beaten with a smash-and-grab less than a minute after Benayoun smacked the crossbar. Thankfully, Torres provides a wonderful equalizer after Liverpool struggled to regain its bearings, and then Fulham goes back ahead after the striker’s questionably withdrawn in the 63rd. Nothing comes from Babel’s entrance, and Nevland notches from a fortunate break. Benayoun’s also withdrawn, and then Degen and Carra pick up straight red cards. It was only a matter of time before Fulham made it 3-1. The nine men that finished the match were Reina, Ayala, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Eccleston, Voronin, and Babel.
Either a bad virus is going around the club or Benitez put too much priority on Wednesday’s Champions League match in Lyon. In addition to Gerrard, Johnson, Aqua, Kelly, and Riera out, which we knew, Agger, Aurelio, Skrtel, Ngog, and Cavalieri didn’t make the squad. If you include El Zhar, Liverpool had a comparable XI missing. The bench was filled with youngsters such as Eccleston, Ayala, Spearing, Plessis, and Gulasci; Babel and Dossena were the only two who’ve started more than three league games.
But this can’t be blamed on injuries. On the whole, Liverpool were indefensible. Just like last season at Craven Cottage, Liverpool looked irrepressible early on, but couldn’t make it pay off. Other than the aforementioned Benayoun blast, the only remotely interesting threat was Voronin’s stumbling headed flick-cum-shot which eluded Torres in the 3rd minute.
Voronin and Benayoun dropped deeper to try and knit play, but Fulham stayed in front of them. All the possession, but no bite. Those two, along with Kuyt, have to take a lot of the blame for Liverpool’s indifference in attack. We know what we’re getting with Lucas and Mascherano, and they were solid in midfield, evidenced by the overwhelming possession. But Liverpool infrequently tested Schwartzer or teed up Torres. And then Fulham struck. Kyrgiakos looked to be the main villain, beaten on the initial header and when Zamora got between him and Insua, but it was basically Fulham's first chance.
Liverpool were completely undone by the opener. It took 15 minutes to reassert any sort of pressure, and Fulham were happy to have 10 men behind the ball daring Liverpool to break them down. Fernando Torres could. Voronin’s header looked to be going nowhere as Hughes stepped up to block, but the defender could only chest to Torres, with the striker brilliantly volleying the errant pass from the top of the box.
With Liverpool finally turning the tables, intermission probably came at an unfortunate time. The team never posed much of a threat in the second half, and Fulham had the best opportunity – Carragher narrowly avoiding a penalty when shielding Zamora – before the controversial turning point.
Rafael Benitez is often compared to a chess master. He’s definitely a hands-on, 'consider everything' tactician, who, if we’re being impudent, treats his players like chess pieces. That’s the only way to describe replacing Fernando Torres with Babel with thirty minutes to play.
I understand his reasons. Torres isn’t at full fitness, he was struggling for chances, and there’s a huge game on Wednesday where he’ll be needed thanks to the insanely depleted squad. But fans don’t care about that. Fans want Gerry Byrne playing with a broken collarbone in the FA Cup Final (look it up). Fans want Terry Butcher with blood streaming down his face. When Liverpool’s drawing a needed win and Fernando Torres's taken out with 30 minutes to go “to protect" him, fans are going to be furious when the team loses 3-1, and rightfully so.
It was either tragedy or comedy after that depending on your outlook. Liverpool created even less in the final third without Torres, and Fulham struck nine minutes after the substitution because Kuyt worked too hard. Too hard! The striker sprinted across the field to try and keep the ball in, laying it on a plate for Konchesky, who raced down the left. His deep cross found Gera, who headed it down for Nevland to redirect.
Embarassingly, Benayoun was soon withdrawn for Eccleston. Taking off the best source of goals is made worse by taking off the second-best source of goals after the team goes behind. Degen’s idiotically rash challenge a minute later deserved a red card for stupidity alone, while Carragher hauled down Zamora in similar circumstances to the Owen challenge three minutes later. A goal against a stretched nine men and Fulham fans chanting olé completed the humiliation, and You’ll Never Walk Alone hadn’t sounded so somber since halftime at Istanbul.
The win over United was a short reprieve, and we’re back on the brink. It’s harder to defend the team or manager than usual, and Benitez would probably be fired if Liverpool loses to Lyon if the owners could afford it. If that doesn’t sum up the severity of this situation, I don’t know what can.