In a season that promised so much, the wheels have come off and the band-wagon has all but come to a grinding halt.
From the heroics coming off the bend and into the finishing straight of last term, a lot was expected from this campaign. A sustained and very real challenge to secure Liverpool’s nineteenth league title, a run deep into the knock out stages of the Champions League and a first trip to the new Wembley in either or both the Carling Cup and FA Cup were hoped for and anticipated. Maybe even expected.
But Rafa and the Reds are faltering and sadly, it seems, coming up short. The Carling Cup dream was rudely halted by Arsenal at the Emirates.
Progression into the knock out stages of the Champions League is no longer in their own hands. And that illusive nineteenth title, well that seems as illusive as it ever was.
Benitez has suggested that the extent of the injuries the squad has had to deal with has been the pivotal reason for the Reds stuttering. Rafa has maintained that injuries to the key players of any Premier League squad would hamper its progress.
The Premier League is the toughest league in the world to win. A large majority of the game’s leading managers and players ply their trade there. It is true that not having Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres fully fit and firing on all cylinders has most certainly curtailed Liverpool title ambitions.
But to be successful, a team must have more than one top quality player in key positions.
Sadly, this is an area in which Liverpool Football Club falls short. Benitez has continually stated that he is happy with the depth of his squad and that he has the quality to mount a sustained challenge. But clearly this is not the case.
Liverpool does not have the quality squad that the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have.
A very simplistic and crude way of judging a squad’s quality and depth could be by looking at the number of goals it has scored and by how those goals are shared out within the players of that squad. If this can be accepted as a simple way of looking at a squad's quality and depth then, when comparing the ‘top four’ clubs, Liverpool do not fare well:
Manchester United has scored 32 goals in all competitions with 12 different players scoring.
Chelsea has scored 47 goals in all competitions with 13 different players scoring.
Arsenal has scored 48 goals in all competitions with 17 different players scoring.
Liverpool has scored 32 goals in all competitions but with only 8 players scoring.
The Reds have scored the equal lowest number of goals but, critically those goals have only been scored by a total of eight players. Even more revealing is that of those 32 goals, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have contributed 14, with the remaining 18 being scored by a mere six other members of the squad.
Those who maintain that Liverpool are a two man team are wrong. Liverpool are a two man squad!
It is difficult to deny that there is a lack of quality and depth in Benitez’s squad.
There is credence, though, in Rafa’s claim that injuries have hit his squad hard. But if those injuries hit the two players that contribute so much to the squad, then the effect of those injuries would doubtlessly be harder felt.
If Benitez had access to a squad of greater quality and depth, then no doubt the loss of Gerrard and Torres would have been felt to a lesser extent.
To make matters worse for Rafa, he has also had to contend with other squad members lining up outside the treatment room. The squad, lacking in quality and depth to the extent that Liverpool are, have suffered miserably.
Realistically Liverpool’s challenge for the Premier League title is over for yet another season, Rafa does not have the squad to sustain such an assault.
So where does Liverpool’s hunt for silverware this season go from here?
During Rafa’s reign the only silverware that has made its way into the Liverpool trophy cabinet has been from the cup competitions, namely the Champions League and the FA Cup.
To salvage what could be the worst season for Benitez since his arrival on Merseyside, the Reds need to win the FA Cup.
It may well be a long way from the third round but fans are probably already pencilling in the dates of the FA Cup rounds in red ink, after all it is the only trophy that Liverpool have a realistic chance left of winning.