Liverpool F.C.: Benitez's Guarantee Wearing Thin
They say you cannot please everyone. Yet sometimes making the poor decision doesn't help anyone's cause. Managers have arguably the toughest job in football; all of their decisions are scrutinised in a result-demanding business.
Owners and fans alike demand instant and immediate success, which heaps—at times unrealistic—pressure upon managers. Nonetheless, the playing style a team employs and the players chosen to start a match are down to the manager.
At the same time, it is down to the players chosen to deliver on the pitch; yet if they fail to deliver, the onus falls at the feet of the manager. There are certain circumstances that a manager cannot be culpable for of course, such as a poor refereeing decision or outside interference in the shape of a beach ball.
Decisions, nevertheless, make or break football matches. This begins with the names of the players on the team sheet. If there's one thing fans want, regardless of the opposition or whether they are home or away, is the team's best players on show.
Of course, managers can be heroes if their substitutions score a winning goal, then they reap the rewards of being a tactical genius. For all of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s late substitute goals, Alex Ferguson will no doubt take credit for making the right change at the right time.
On the weekend, Liverpool's manager took drastic action as they were level with Birmingham. Needing a win to stay in touching distance of Tottenham and Manchester City for the race for the fourth and final Champions League place, Benitez fielded a strong and attacking starting 11.
Yet as the match stood at 1-1, Benitez made a tactical decision to take off Fernando Torres and replace him with understudy David N'Gog. A decision that perplexed Captain Steven Gerrard and Torres, as he walked off somewhat confused at seeing his number up.
If looks could kill, Benitez's murder inquiry would make Gerrard as the prime suspect with Torres as his accomplice. As the two exchanged words, Gerrard’s facial expression said all that was needed. The kind of look that optimised why Albert Riera came out with his outburst that attacked Benitez as "aloof".
The away fans made their feelings loud and clear, booing the decision to take off their star striker with 25 minutes to go. Fans don't travel to away matches to see one of their best players, without a shadow of a doubt their deadliest striker, taken off in such an important match. Benitez explained it was not a tactical decision, but a circumstance that forced his hand as Torres was "tired".
Apologies, but how a world class striker gets tired playing something he trains all week for is beyond me. A striker, such as Torres' stature, wants to play every minute or every game; for him fatigue does not come into the equation. At no point did Alex Ferguson, or Manuel Pellegrini now, take off Cristiano Ronaldo due to fatigue. Nor does Pep Guarliola take off Lionel Messi.
Unless the match is won, only then would such players be expected to be substituted. Even then, the Ronaldo’s and Messi’s of the world will want to continue.
Such is football, the subsequent chances fell to substitute N'Gog who failed to capitalise as Liverpool yet again failed to beat Birmingham under the tenure of Benitez. No one can doubt that had those chances that N'Gog squandered fallen to the Spaniard, Liverpool would have still been in the race for fourth.
With respect to N'Gog, an 80 percent fit Torres would have finished at least one of those chances that fell to the Frenchman. As it stands, it is beyond their reach—although not mathematically—but it remains Manchester City's to lose.
What a difference a year makes, this time last year Liverpool were on Manchester United's heel chasing the title, this time around they are barely on the heels of United's city rivals in the chase for fourth.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
This is not the first time such an incident has happened of course. In 2007, again against Birmingham, Benitez omitted Torres from the starting lineup much to the dislike of Liverpool fans only to bring him on with 30 minutes to play as the teams played out a goalless draw.
If it wasn't before, it is now officially out of Liverpool's hands in the race for fourth. Manchester City and Tottenham can boast having a better squad with only a handful of games remaining. Benitez's "guarantee" of finishing fourth has undoubtedly backfired. Granted, poor team performances have hampered his public guarantee, yet making critical decisions as he did against Birmingham will not help his cause.
There are so many guarantees that are yet to be finalised. Will Liverpool make the Champions League? Will Rafael Benitez be Liverpool manager next season? Will Fernando Torres leave?
I "guarantee" you I don't know the answer.
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