Save Our Season: Has Rafa Benitez Taken Liverpool as Far as He Can?
As we approach mid-November, a season that began just four months ago and held such exciting expectations for Liverpool has collapsed in spectacular fashion.
After last season's impressive second place finish, many thought that 2009/10 would be the year that Liverpool finally ended 20 years of title-less hurt.
However, after just 12 matches, Rafael Benitez's men are languishing down in seventh place, having lost to Fulham, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Chelsea, and a beachball.
Just a dozen matches in and already an S.O.S call is being transmitted—Save Our Season.
Usually that acronym's ties with Liverpool go only as far as the Spirit of Shankly, but another manager could do with some of Shankly's luck at the moment.
Benitez has been the main focal point of criticism aimed at Liverpool's below-par form, with some suggesting he is weeks, perhaps days away from being given the sack.
Just one win in the last nine matches is the type of form Anfield rarely sees. The fact that that one win was against Manchester United could be the only reason Benitez still has a job.
However, something that is often overlooked is that Liverpool had gone on a six-match winning streak before this, wins that included hitting six past Hull and four past Burnley.
Of course, this doesn't excuse the recent run of results. In fact, it merely serves to raise more questions. Still, at the start of the season I was firmly in the Benitez camp, and that hasn't changed just yet.
While I may not be completely outraged if Benitez gets sacked now, I still think doing so would be a mistake.
Granted, he has been in the job for five years now, and has had time to stamp his authority on the squad and build what he thinks is a team that can challenge for titles.
Last season, he was proved right. Progress was the key word on the red half of Merseyside.
So far this season, though, be it due to the sale of Xabi Alonso or a completely different factor, it is quite the opposite. A quick scan of the Liverpool teams in recent matches gives a stark reminder of the relative lack of quality Benitez has to work with.
The likes of David N'Gog, Andriy Voronin, Sotorios Kyrgiakos, and arguably Lucas Leiva are not good enough to challenge for the title. The worrying thing is that these players have seen a fair amount of game time too.
Others, like Stephen Darby and Jay Spearing, may be superstars in the making. In the case of the latter, I think this is likely, but they're not players who will help you tackle the big boys yet.
The fact that they are on the bench regularly highlights the club's lack of depth.
Who is to blame for this? Well, earlier I said that Benitez didn't have great tools to work with, but this squad is entirely his making. Only Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher remain from the Houllier era.
Surely then, the criticism for lack of depth should fall squarely at Benitez's door, even if he has had limited resources compared to others.
It is, however, important to remember that he has brought in some top quality players.
A common falsehood used about Liverpool is that they are a "two-man team." Yes, when Gerrard and Torres are injured, we badly miss them, but who wouldn't?
If Rooney and Vidic were injured for Manchester United, they would struggle. If Drogba and Lampard were unavailable for Chelsea, they would struggle. If Van Persie and Fabregas were missing for Arsenal, they would struggle.
Liverpool have arguably a better starting 11 when everyone is fully fit than their main competitors.
Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard, and Fernando Torres are all, in my view, the best players in the league in their respective positions.
Jamie Carragher is still a heroic defender, and with an on-form Agger or Skrtel alongside him, Liverpool are tough to break down.
The returning Alberto Aquilani should provide the missing piece of the puzzle since Alonso's departure in the midfield, and Dirk Kuyt's efforts for the team cannot be underestimated.
But despite this, Liverpool are 11 points off the top of the table, out of the Carling Cup, and facing elimination from the Champions League.
Is this due to bad management? As a Liverpool fan, I can tell you that there are few managers more frustrating than the Spaniard, but you don't turn into a bad manager overnight.
So has Benitez taken Liverpool as far as he can? At the moment, I'm still not convinced.
However, I have always said that while Liverpool are progressing, Benitez's job should not come into question. Only when they start regressing should that question crop up.
At the moment, they are regressing, so it comes as no surprise that Benitez is under pressure.
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