Rafael Benitez and Liverpool Search for Lady Luck

Nabeel KhokharCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2010

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16: Lucas Leiva of Liverpool shows his disappointment after the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium on January 16, 2010 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

They say that lightning does not strike twice. But for Rafa Benitez and his Reds, it most certainly does. To be precise, so far this season it has struck them on no less than five occasions.

In yesterday's lunchtime kick off, Liverpool came to the Britannia Stadium on the back of crashing out of the FA Cup at its first huddle by a humiliating home defeat to struggling Reading.

Rafa made wholesale changes to his line up for the clash with Stoke City. The most significant of which was Kyrgiakos being brought into the centre of defense to partner Skrtel and Carragher being pushed out to right back.

This proved to be a tactically intelligent move as the Greek international, who is possibly Rafa's most physically dominant central defender, put in a towering performance.

Phillipp Degen was given the right side of midfield to patrol and once again showed his attacking instincts and willingness to run at defenders.

It was his persistence that won the free kick that led to Liverpool taking the leader through Kyrgiakos, with a goal that was more in line with their opponents' style of play than theirs.

With the men from Anfield holding on to their slender lead for dear life, the game headed into the final stages and Stoke, as expected, threw everything at Liverpool.

Their direct onslaught came in waves, most of which were absorbed by the head or body of the giant Greek at the centre of the Reds defense.

A hard fought, confidence boosting, battling one nil win, is exactly what the doctor would have ordered for the ills that are currently plaguing the men from Anfield.

But with lady luck having completely deserted Liverpool this season and her larger female companion seemingly having lost her voice, the 90th minute and time added on, is a dreaded time for the Reds.

From being the 'come-back kings' of last season, when they picked up points in the final minutes of matches, this season Liverpool have become the 'last-minute losers' with goals being conceded in the 90th minute on five occasions now.

With a late strike dumping Liverpool out of the FA Cup in their previous outing and three late goals in games in the Champions League being a major contributor to their early exit and that bizarre beach ball incident, Benitez must be wondering what he has done to anger the gods so enormously.

And so once again lightning struck and for a fifth time the Reds were stunned by a 90th minute goal. This time an equalizer condemning them to what Dirk Kuyt described as "feeling like defeat."

So much has Lady Luck deserted Liverpool this season, that in time added on, when they themselves broke away and Kuyt met Aurelio's wonderful cross with a superb diving header, the ball cannoned off the post and away to safety instead of hitting the back of the net.

So Kuyt and Liverpool fans, instead of celebrating what looked like three very much needed points, were left to rue yet another last minute spoiler and Rafa left to fend off another round of unwarranted 'Rafa-Bashing."