Liverpool blow chance to catch up to 4th

Episode #994 of Rafa Benitez in “The pointless flaunting of authority” was played out Sunday at St. Andrews.
fficeffice" />>>
Liverpool supposedly have aspirations of finishing in 4th place and qualifying for the Champions League. Despite guaranteeing this position (it’ll be interesting to see if the Spirit of Shankly group start calling him a liar if we don’t make it, because that’s what they brand Hicks and Gillett), once again Rafa Benitez shows his willingness to listen to the fans by seemingly concentrating on Europe at the expense of the league, yet again.
>>
With Spurs losing if we had won Sunday at Birmingham we’d have been right up the table, in a good position to capitalise on our easier run-in than our rivals. Instead we are now staking our entire season on winning a match against a very tough Benfica team. In a competition that even if we win, it’s still not as lucrative to the club or as attractive to players as the Champions League.
>>
Then, as many times before this season, Benitez happened.
>>
Birmingham had just equalised through Ridgewell’s dong, by the way I don’t think Johnson was to blame, as most others seem to think. Lucas let Fahey run past him without doing anything about it, meaning Johnson had to cover him in the middle, leaving the back post exposed.
>>
That left us with over half an hour to try and find a winner. Then he made the obvious move any team makes when they need a goal, he took his best striker and main goal threat off. Torres looked far from happy about coming off and the look on Steven Gerrard’s face spoke volumes. It wasn’t due to injury, despite images of Torres icing his knee, Benitez said as much in his post-match interview.
>>
Benitez after the game said he made this move because Torres was tired and he wanted to preserve him for the Benfica game. More on that later.
>>
His replacement was David N’Gog, a young striker who has had to carry a huge burden in Torres’ absence due to his managers failure to fill a glaring gap in the squad in the past two transfer windows, a young player who has had his confidence completely destroyed, maybe irreparably, by a manager putting too much weight on his shoulders (remember N’Gog had only scored one senior goal before coming to Liverpool).
>>
N’Gog waster three very good chances, the last coming from an exquisite 50-yard Gerrard pass that he controlled well then produced a pathetically weak shot, which left Gerrard with a face like thunder.
>>
To say N’Gog is having a bad patch in front of goal is being very kind to him, at the moment he doesn’t look like he’d be able to score if he was the only man on a desert island full of nymphomaniacs. A few weeks ago the matchday programme actually contained this line “ Don’t be surprised if David N’Gog doesn’t make the French World Cup squad”. No kidding, there’s more chance of me making the France team than him!
>>
As well as N’Gog, Maxi missed a very good chance to win the game, though I was impressed by his overall performance, he was unlucky to hit the bar in the first half, he seems to be getting better with every game.
>>
The reason Benitez gave for taking Torres off was that “Torres was exhausted, we played 60 minutes with 10 players the other day," said Benitez, referring to Liverpool's 2-1 defeat by Benfica and hewanted to save him for Thursday night.
>>
Presumably that’s why Mascherano and Agger, our best player in the last two games weren’t involved. Okay, I can see that, but in that case, why did Benayoun start and Babel not? With Babel once again demonstrating his football intelligence by getting himself sent off and ruling him out of the Europa League game, surely he should play rather than Benayoun?
>>
Also, Birmingham are a tough, physical team. To succeed against them, you need to be ready for a physical battle. Benayoun has the resilience of a fart in a tornado. He was completely out-muscled and out-battled all afternoon and ended up being a total non-factor in the game; you and I had as much influence on the game as he did. Babel belatedly replaced him, and it was no coincidence to me that we were a much better side when he was in it as he was willing to do things Benayoun wasn’t such as running with the ball, holding the ball up and not panicking every time someone in a blue shirt.
>>
Kuyt was deployed in his proper position of the middle and showed why he cannot be relied upon for goals. His first touch is appalling, he can’t pass and he was another player who just disappeared from the game without ever really affecting it in the first place.
>>
Benitez waited far too long to put Babel on and then in a tough game, put Aquilani, a player not exactly renowned for his physical prowess on for the last few minutes, despite reports suggesting he needs another operation.
>>
So yet another away game without a win, another draw that we were unable to turn into three points and another opportunity to salvage something from the disaster of this season wasted.
>>
As for Thursday, the big question is who’s going to play left-back? With Insua suspended and Aurelio injured. There really isn’t a whole lot of choice. Left back has been a problem position all season, with Insua needing to be taken out of the firing line but having to stay in due to a lack of other options.
>>
The common consensus seems to be to bring Kyrgiakos in and move either Agger or Carragher out to the left. I think that would be a mistake. Kyrgiakos will get ripped to shreds by the quick movement by the Benfica forwards and Agger is playing to well, and is the only central defender with any pace we have, to move him to left back and Carragher won’t want to play there.
>>
With Martin Skrtel and Martin Kelly injured, Stephen Darby out on loan and reserve team left-back Robbie Threlfall also on loan, the only other options we have in our Europa League squad are, Steven Irwin and Daniel Ayala, both of which are completely inexperienced and it would be a huge ask for one of them to ber able to handle the likes of Di Maria.
>>
What I can see happening is a horrible experiment where Johnson gets moved to left-back, completely negating the one thing he brings to the team, attacking prowess and Carragher at right-back with Kyrgiakos in the middle, or even worse, Mascherano playing full back again.
>>
Still, could be worse, Degen might play!