Rafael Benitez : “I can guarantee we will finish in the top four.”
The tale of Liverpool’s season thus far seems to be taking a step backwards when people expect it the least.
Before their loss against Wigan on Monday night, the Reds had only lost one League match in 2010, an understandable 1—0 defeat at the Emirates against Arsenal.
Media pressure on the team was evaporating, and conspiracy theories purporting the idea that Benitez’s master plan was to get sacked so he could return to native Spain seemed less and less credible.
That theory remains questionable, but Liverpool’s performance at the DW Stadium on Monday night was beyond questionable.
Against a Wigan side that was on a seven match winless run in the League, Rafa’s charges did not play like Champions League qualification contenders, in a deserved 1—0 win for Wigan.
Just days before the match, Rafa made it clear that Liverpool could not afford anymore slip ups:
“Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa will be very dangerous so we cannot make many mistakes.”
So having made a fairly big mistake by losing to Wigan, have Liverpool thrown away Champions League qualification?
Well, Liverpool have now played more games than City, Spurs, or Villa.
Villa in particular, have three games on hand on the Merseysiders, and are only one win behind.
City are a point ahead with two games in hand, while Spurs are level on points with City, having played one match more.
On the face of it, Rafa’s guarantee that Liverpool would finish fourth does not look good value for anyone’s money at the moment.
Upon closer examination, do their chances of sneaking into Europe’s premier competition seem better?
Let’s take a look.
First off, Tottenham’s run in includes a trip to champions Manchester United, as well as visits to White Hart Lane by Chelsea and Arsenal.
Furthermore, the FA Cup quarterfinal against Fulham will serve as a further distraction, especially if the Spurs win the forthcoming replay, which will be played at home.
As for Aston Villa, they face Manchester City in their second to last League match of the season, in a six pointer that would almost certainly play a pivotal role in determining who gets the ticket to Europe.
On top of that, Chelsea awaits the Villains in both League and Cup competition.
Manchester City’s final matches include ties with neighbours United, title contenders Arsenal, and a trip to Craven Cottage to meet dangerous Fulham.
Liverpool, who have already beaten United once, face them again before a trip to Chelsea in May.
Apart from a potentially tricky visit to Birmingham, their league list seems to be a tad lighter, albeit not by much.
The Reds do still have the matter of the Europa League at hand though. One would assume Benitez would throw away the competition for League commitments as the season reaches its final stages, but I think it is unlikely that he would do it anytime soon.
To sum up, Liverpool could still finish fourth, due to the fact that none of their fellow contenders have simple run ins.
Personally, however, I think they will just miss out, finishing fifth. No offence meant to Liverpool supporters whatsoever, but I believe Spurs and Villa are more desperate for Europe having not qualified in recent times, while City not only can be brilliant on their day, but they have a manger who will almost certainly be sacked should they fail to attain the fourth spot.
Which of course, bring us to Liverpool’s manager...
The Attitude of Liverpool and The Manager
Rafa Benitez seemed to reference his “guarantee” of a top four finish when he said this following the Wigan defeat:
“We have to show more character if we want to be in the top four. You cannot guarantee anything if you do not show character or attitude.”
Benitez is not famous for lambasting his team so publicly, but this piece of brutal truth from the manager is exactly what his players needed to hear.
Too often this season, failures have been sugar coated and targets set have been quietly downgraded.
The manager himself is guilty of these mistakes, but now with his team back to full fitness, excuses can no longer be an option. One way or another, Rafael Benitez will have to motivate these stars, if he is achieve what was supposed to be the bare minimum for the Reds at the start of the season.
As a final note, Benitez crowing about a victory against Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn was short sighted.
When you are manage a team chasing Champions League qualification, patting yourself on the back publicly for defeating a mid table side on a shoestring budget brings no benefit whatsoever.
All fans, of Liverpool or otherwise, feel free to comment on who you think will grab the final spot for Europe. Thanks for reading.