What a difference a month makes. It's four weeks, or 31 days, or 744 hours, or 44,640 minutes, or even 2,678,400 seconds. Measure it anyway you like, but for Rafa Benitez and Liverpool Football Club the last month must feel like an eternity.
Is it really only just over a month ago when Anfield was basking in the glory of a fabulous victory over the champions, Manchester United, and life on Merseyside seemed to be all rosy again?
What should have been a springboard that propelled Liverpool up the table, solidifying their credentials as serious challengers for this year’s Premier League title and reigniting their faltering Champions League campaign, has proved to be nothing more than a bright spot in an otherwise dreadful season so far.
Since that glorious triumph, Liverpool’s only victory in any match has been an unconvincing, and ultimately, meaningless victory over the minnows of their Champions League Group a few days ago.
The Reds’ home win was by virtue of only their second goal against Debrecen, whereas Fiorentina has scored nine times in their two games against the Hungarians and Lyon four times, with their second game still to come.
Liverpool’s performances in their Premier League games have been even more disastrous. Two home draws against Birmingham and Manchester City and an away loss to Fulham have resulted in a measly two points from a possible nine. This has all but ended Liverpool's title challenge for this season and left them in a real fight for fourth place, which, realistically, is the highest position they can achieve, barring a miracle.
To top off a miserable month, Rafa’s men were also knocked out of the Carling Cup by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Does this spell C-R-I-S-I-S in the corridors of Anfield?
There certainly seems to be signs that all is not well in the dressing room. Certain media outlets have carried stories of players’ unrest in the camp with quotes from "an agent of one of the Liverpool superstars" being alleged to have made statements such as, “the atmosphere is really bad,” and, “there are a lot of unhappy players around.”
Well, following the devastating exit from the Champions League, it is quite understandable that the atmosphere is not fantastic, and it is very likely that there are a lot of players that are unhappy.
When such comments are taken in context, they should not be alarming, as they seem very appropriate and in line with what must be a body blow to the club.
Even seemly disturbing quotes such as, “I am sure that there will be some players who would like to move on now, that’s for sure” when taken in context should also not be too distressing.
There have been players who have been looking for the exit. Most notably, Ryan Babel has made clear what has been evident for quite some time now, that he is not happy and wants to leave.
Andrea Dossena being another that has publicly expressed his desire to move on.
Criticism and denigration will come from pundits, commentators, and even current players. Manchester United’s Gary Neville, never one to shy away from a disparaging comment or action towards Liverpool, has already made it clear that he has no sympathy for the Reds.
Not that any is wanted or deserved. Sadly, the Reds have not performed well enough and have made their own bed and now have to lie in it.
What is needed now from Rafa Benitez is to show true management quality. This awful run of form and early exit from Europe’s premier club competition is quite possibly the most difficult situation that he has had to face in his managerial career.
Many of the core members of the squad have come out with encouraging and positive statements of intent. Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina, and Javier Mascherano have all pledged to bring the Europa League (UEFA Cup) back to Anfield.
This is by no means a formality or a foregone conclusion with Liverpool possibly facing the likes of Ajax, Anderlecht, Valencia, Hamburg, Sporting Lisbon, Roma, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, Villarreal, Benfica, PSV Eindhoven, Werder Bremen, the holders Shakhtar Donetsk, or even neighbours Everton in the next round.
Rafa Benitez needs to show real leadership and rally his troops, provide motivation, inspiration, make the right team selections and decisions during games. Above all, he needs to demonstrate to the players and fans that he still has what it takes to lead Liverpool out of these difficult times.
There is still plenty of football to be played this season. What is required from Rafa is a shift in the emphasis. The title may be beyond the Reds now, but there is still a top four finish and cup silverware to play for.
Although there is no question that Liverpool is under a really dark cloud right now, come the end of the season, if they finish in the Champions League places and bring a cup (or two) into the Anfield trophy cabinet, it may yet have a silver lining.
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