EPL in Summary: Gunners Move on as Benitez's Reds Falter Again
The pundits were quite insistent prior to the season that if this ailment was cured, the Merseysiders would indeed make a feasible challenge for the Premiership.
Newsflash: 1 Win in 4 Home Matches won't win you the title either!
Other than the 6-0 victory over the hapless Derby County, Liverpool are yet to win at Anfield, and continue to lack the rhythm, creativity and urgency required to do so.
Rhythm will of course not be helped by another 5 changes made by Rafael Benitez for today's fixture against Tottenham Hotspur. However, with a couple of exceptions, this was close to the strongest team available for the Spaniard.
Unfortunately though, this was far too reminiscent of watching Liverpool over the last 3 or 4 years, dominating possession for long periods yet not punishing sides in the way that their rivals do.
Why is a mystery given the players at their disposal, but unless a solution is found Liverpool will be happy to simply finish 4th and qualify for next year's Champions League.
This was a thoroughly disjointed performance, lacking the injection of pace that may have created a cutting edge. Having said that, they still created enough chances to have been 3 or 4 up at the half. Instead, a woeful peace of defending by Sami Hyppia meant that Robbie Keane was able to equalise Andrei Voronin's early strike.
Worse was to follow for the Finn as himself and the usually reliable Jamie Carragher continually failed to deal with the aerial threat of Dimitar Berbatov, whose flick on allowed Keane to fire Spurs in front a mere 74 seconds after the break.
If this was supposed to be a catalyst for a Liverpool revival, the ignition evidently was not turned on. Liverpool continued to give away possession cheaply, were unsure at the back, and lacked any real cohesion in their game.
That they battled to the end is the only positive for them, and it was rewarded with Fernando Torres' injury time leveller. I find it difficult to believe that certain scribes have been critical of Liverpool's record signing, but with 7 goals already to his name, he is already establishing himself as a firm favourite at Anfield.
Benitez should have 2 major concerns this evening:-
The first will be the lack of depth at the heart of his defence in the absence of Daniel Agger. Sami Hyppia has been a fine servant and a great player for Liverpool Football Club. However, his lack of pace and movement is now a liability more often than not. It gives me no pleasure to say it, but he is no longer good enough to play at this level, and the proof of this is that he has made errors leading to at least 4 goals this season. Given the fact that Liverpool consider very few, that fact does not make good reading.
The other area of concern in the form of Steven Gerrard. He was anonymous for large parts of today's match and has been for several weeks. It is hard to blame the 2 Internationals that he played when less than 100% fit, but there would certainly appear to be a link.
Simply, Gerrard is a passenger that Liverpool cannot afford to carry. He is the heartbeat of this side and Liverpool could find their title challenge derailed prematurely unless they find a way to rejuvenate their skipper.
His lack of form is exacerbated by Xavi Alonso's injury and the inconsistent form of Momo Sissoko. The vaunted midfield of the Merseysiders suddenly looks rather thin, with only Javier Mascherano performing at an acceptable level.
This makes it even more obscene that the Argeninian maestro continues to play a regular role in Benitez's chopping and changing.
Liverpool's current form is alarming - they have won only 2 games in 7. Now more than ever, logic suggests that Benitez finds his best available unit and allows it to gel as a cohesive unit.
Benitez has NO EXCUSES. He was provided with the funds to build his squad, and has been given every support and backing by the club. Now is the time to deliver. Events at Stamford Bridge have shown that nobody is indispensible ... that includes Rafael Benitez.
Talking of Stamford Bridge, congratulations to Avram Grant on his first league win as Chelsea boss. The Israeli seems like a thoroughly likeable man, and although I'll not be wishing Chelsea too much success, I would hope that he proves the critics wrong.
Elsewhere, Arsenal continue to impress - funny how Arsene Wenger kept an unchanged side - although they were hard pressed by Roy Keane's Sunderland.
Manchester United are ominously hitting their straps and threaten to leave the field in their wake. Given that their own version of the 'Holy Trinity' is showing signs of gelling, they may be hard to beat.
The gauntlet has been laid down - Liverpool and Chelsea slip up at their peril.
Another week in the books, I look forward to seeing you after the International Break.
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