Fifteen Minutes that Shook Liverpool (and not in a good way)

A film has been released recently called ‘Fifteen Minutes that Shook the World’ that’s about the team-talk Benitez gave in Istanbul when we were 3-0 down at half time. We all know what happened as a result of that. Today his team talk produced the opposite result as Liverpool, who had been excellent in the first half, completely folded in the second half, slumping to a 1-2 defeat at the hand of Arsenal.
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What the hell happened at half time? Cesc Fabregas came out and said that Arsene Wenger absolutely tore into Arsenal at half time and he’d never seen him as angry. Liverpool on the other hand went in as lions but came out as sheep. What was said that caused such a difference in performance in the second half?
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That second half was truly pathetic. I’m not going to blame Glen Johnson for the goals; both times the ball got deflected just in front of him so there really wasn’t too much he could have done differently. I hope he doesn’t beat himself up too much. Also that was a damn good finish by Arshavin.
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The success we had in the first half was due to us giving Arsenal no time on the ball. Teams that beat Arsenal usually beat them this way. We totally shut down Fabregas, Arshavin and Walcott and as a result Arsenal never really threatened.
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As with Fiorentina, Manchester City and every other time we take a lead the team were instructed to sit back. This totally played into Arsenals hands, as they were able to move the ball and have us chasing shadows for the second half.
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After Arsenal scored we completely abandoned the style of play we had employed to good effect and just decided to play long balls instead. Remember that Liverpool are not the tallest of sides so there’s really not many people we can call on to win one of those long balls but that didn’t stop us from playing them.
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We basically reverted to the tactic 6-year-olds use when playing on the school playground, hit the ball to your best player (Torres) and hope he can do something with it. Only our other players were not moving around the Arsenal defence so there wasn’t much space for Torres to work his magic. Gerrard was marked out of the game and Benayoun and Kuyt’s contributions in the second half were negligible (and that’s me being polite).
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Then there were the substitutions, which as always, came around the 65min mark. We got Aquilani on but he wasn’t all that effective, he certainly didn’t do much going forward. Mascherano was sacrificed for N’gog, who had nothing to work with and then the most Benitez substitution of the lot, Johnson off for Degen. With only 8 minutes left to go you’d have though that we might have changed shape and put an attacker on and really gone for it for one last push at scoring an equaliser. However, having Benitez as manager, we of course had no other attacking players on the bench and had to choose from one of the THREE full backs (and Skrtel) named as substitutes.
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Benitez has done this before. Remember in Athens when losing 2-0 with 2 minutes to go Benitez used our last sub by replacing Finnan with Arbeloa, rather than having a go with Bellamy? On Wednesday he brought on Fabio Aurelio to play centre-midfield, making it three recognised left backs on the pitch, despite this tactic having been ineffective in the past.
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All in all despite supposedly chasing the game for 30 minutes we didn’t muster a single shot on target in the second half. That is simply unacceptable.
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The worst thing for me about the last two defeats was the reactions of other people. On Wednesday I was sat next to a woman from either Singapore or Malaysia who was extremely excited to be at Anfield. When Fiorentina equalised she was fighting off tears. I was so glad that her and her husband left before they got the winner as I think the pair of them would have been inconsolable. On the TV coverage of today’s game Liverpool legend Ian St. John was visibly upset at the demise of Liverpool, which was distressing to watch.
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Make no mistake our league situation is dire. We have now lost more games than Stoke and are on the same number of points as Birmingham, a team who have scored 6 goals at home all season and that we needed to cheat to get a draw with. On paper it looks as though we have three easy games coming up, Wigan at home, Portsmouth away and Wolves at home. That should be 9 points for us. However, given the way we’ve played recently I would not be surprised if we come unstuck against at least one of those teams.
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It’s not just the results that are a problem; it’s the style of play. I’d be very surprised if Torres is enjoying getting the crap kicked out of him while having to chase long balls every week. Real Madrid sporting director Jorge Valdano once compared watching a Benitez team to ‘hanging shit on a stick and calling it art’. Liverpool’s former successes were built on a policy of ‘pass and move’, where one player passes to a teammate in space and then gets into space himself to receive the ball. Numerous times over the past few games I’ve seen players pass to a teammate in a worse position than themselves because they didn’t have any other idea who to pass to. We’re not even a counter attack team any more. We don’t have the pace to counter attack. We play with a very slow tempo, allowing teams to get behind the ball easily against us. Instead we just pass the ball to death in the midfield without any creativity or vision to do anything differently. Against Blackburn we got a free kick in the last minute just inside our own half. Normally, that would be a cue to launch a cross into the box in hopes of someone getting a header in or knocking the ball down but instead Carragher passed it backwards to Agger who was immediately closed down by a forward. Benitez’s micromanagement has stifled the players to the point where they are afraid to try anything different for fears of making a mistake.
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It was announced, for about the tenth time this season, before the game that our season was going to start today. God help us if it has. We have now won 3 of the last 15 games we have played. That is sackable form for any manager. Whilst the loyalty of those fans still pulling for Benitez is admirable, the results, team selections, tactical decisions, substitutions and demeanour of the players suggests that Benitez has officially run out of ideas and for the club to move forward he must go.
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For those who say we can’t afford to sack him, as it will cost about 20m or so, remember that is assuming he doesn’t get a job in the next 4 years. It’ll be about 5m if he gets a job by the end of the season. With a top 4 position all-important (how depressing was that to hear Gerrard say that’s the priority now, showing how our ambitions have fallen since August), can we afford not to?