Liverpool Lose To Aston Villa: Are the Reds Heading For Fourth Spot?

Owen WatsonCorrespondent IAugust 24, 2009

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24:  Fernando Torres of Liverpool shows his dejection during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield on August 24, 2009 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Liverpool lost at Anfield to Aston Villa tonight, their second loss in only three Premier League games. What's happened to football on Merseyside?

Ok, the club drew far too many games last season, but they have now lost as many games in three fixtures as they did in 38 matches last year.

Looking at Liverpool's fixture list, you'd have said it was important for the club to get a running start in the league. Going into October and November they'll face some tough games; away at Chelsea and away at Sunderland, before hosting champions Manchester United and then travelling away to Craven Cottage to play Fulham.

Going into November is a little easier, as they play Birmingham at home first. But then they have to host Manchester City and go across town to tackle Everton.

Chelsea, Man United, Man City, Everton, and difficult away games at Sunderland and Fulham. Interlink some Champions League fixtures and you can see Liverpool dropping more points in those eight weeks.

Keep in mind that you can only lose six games and still be in contention with a realistic shot at the title. Is it unfair to say Liverpool could have four losses by the end of October?

Deeper than that, the team has to face the real prospect of replacing Xabi Alonso. Alberto Aquilani is a good player, but he'll take time to get up to speed in a demanding division that is tough to adapt to when you aren't coming back from injury.

I don't remember the exact statistics, but I think Liverpool won 67 percent of games last season when Alonso was in the side, and only 45 percent without. It's increasingly clear that Lucas Leiva is not an adequate replacement at this time, whether he will be in the future is another question.

The problem is, they need a dynamic and creative influence in their midfield now. Can they wait for Aquilani to get to full fitness and adapt, or for Lucas to find his feet? Will they even be in the title race at that point?

Three games into a season is far from a crisis, but Liverpool need to turn their season around quickly or their stuttering form will leave them even further behind the pack with a team heavily reliant on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

One solution would be to move Gerrard back into central midfield and hand a starting berth to Yossi Benayoun behind Torres. The Israeli was devastating in this role at the end of last season. But will Benitez be prepared to drop Lucas? 

If he wants to avoid limping into fourth place, does he have another choice?