Going into today's big game at Anfield all the talk was on whether Liverpool would be able to stop Chelsea winning, boosting Manchester United's hopes of a 19th league championship. However, after the game the talking point is whether or not Rafa Benitez deserves to stay as Liverpool manager next season.
There was much optimism at the start of the season that this season would finally be the year that Liverpool would win the Premier League. After only two defeats last season in the league and doubles over Manchester United and Chelsea, Benitez and Liverpool's supporters were adamant that they would challenge for the league championship.
Liverpool's start to the season wasn't brilliant with defeats to Spurs and Aston Villa early on. Before losing to Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on October 4, Benitez's side had looked good scoring goals in the process.
After losing convincingly to Ancelotti's men, the side then slumped to one of their most humiliating defeats of the season at Sunderland via the help of a adventurous balloon. Darren Bent's winner signalled Liverpool to their fourth league defeat of the season, and already questions were being asked of the side.
In typical Anfield tradition, Benitez's men bounced back in their next game. Without Steven Gerrard they performed wonders with Kuyt and Lucas performing well with goals from Torres and Ngog winning the game.
Since that game the season has been an utter disaster for Liverpool with today's loss against Chelsea consigning the Reds to 19 defeats in a season—a number simply not good enough for Benitez, Liverpool, and their fans.
Yes, they have had injuries particularly to important players like Torres, Agger, Auerlio, Skrtel, and Aquiliani. However the facts are that Liverpool at the moment as a team do not look to be capable of managing a title challenge under Benitez. The reasons for this are that the current playing staff are just not good enough.
Too much pressure is on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres week in and week out to perform and score the goals. Today Liverpool would have troubled Chelsea more with the powerful Spaniard in their lineup, but questions have to be asked why Liverpool are so reliant on those two players. If you take those two away it is hard to work out where the goals are going to come from on a consistent basis.
Yes, they may have Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt, but the sad fact is those two players are not good enough to get into Manchester United's or Chelsea's squad on a regular basis.
Benitez cannot use injuries and fatigue as an excuse this season as to why his side have failed to mount a title challenge yet alone finish fourth this season. Manchester United for all their problems this season with injuries to their rock-hard defense, which the cornerstone to their championship last season and the loss of Ronaldo have still mounted a title challenge.
Arsenal have had as bad injury problems this season and have been boosted this season by a tremendous team spirit that has seen them finish third this season, all without a fit Robin Van Persie for most of the year. Spurs under Harry Redknapp have perhaps overachieved this year, but they have more creativity in their lineup than Liverpool and lots of players can score goals for them.
The same can be said for the Megabucks side of Manchester City who Roberto Mancini has done well to gell into a side that next season will challenge for the Championship.
People should not forget Martin O'Neil's Aston Villa who but for injuries late on in the season could have gone into next weekend still fighting for fourth position in the table. Villa have had a tremendous season with young exciting english players like Downing, Agbonlahor, Young, and Milner coming agonisingly close to winning two cup competitions this year.
In fact, but for poor decisions going against twice at Wembley in the Carling Cup final and FA Cup semifinal, they could have won two major trophies this season. That figure is, of course, exactly the same amount Benitez has won at Anfield in his six years in charge.
The point I'm trying to make there is that those teams have had similar problems to Liverpool but they have still got the job done. A startling fact is that Liverpool's best winning consecutive run in the Premiership this season is only four games, and that came after the seventh game of the season! Even Birmingham have bettered that.
Benitez says that he wants to buy four to five new players next season to build a squad capable of mounting a championship challenge. I would go as far as saying that they need 10 new players to mount a challenge, and even with that change it would be difficult to win the league.
Players need to jell into playing as a team, and that takes time. Benitez has spent around £240m pounds in his six years in charge of the team, and in that time—aside from last seaso—he has not looked like building a team capable of winning a championship.
The current Liverpool side is not good enough. Players like Craig Bellamy, Peter Crouch, and John Arne Riise were all looked at as not good enough by Liverpool's manager. Those three players would have walked into today's lineup, but the one problem Benitez has is that he does not have enough patience in players.
Managers like Wenger and Ferguson give players time but too often in his time in charge at Anfield Benitez has shipped off players (who cost more than an arm and a leg) within one season. His failure to trust players has resulted in more rebuilding done than necessary which will always mean that he can never put a consistent team together.
Xavi Alonso's transfer to Real Madrid was a situation that Benitez should never have allowed to happen. Alonso is one of the best midfielders in world football, but for some odd reason Benitez wanted Gareth Barry to play alongside Gerrard at Anfield.
Several people in the media have argued that as a result of this Alonso was always looking to move to Real Madrid last summer, even before Florentino Perez's re-election as president of Real Madrid.
Then when Alonso moved to Real Madrid, with Barry available to sign Benitez did not want to spend £2-3m more than Villa were asking for allowing Manchester City to sign the English midfielder.
The loss of Barry was an important part as to why Liverpool have struggled this season. Although Javier Mascherano has fought hard this season, with Gerrard playing a more attacking role this season there has been no one to win the ball in midfield, allowing Gerrard less time on the ball.
Gerrard is unlikely to leave Liverpool this summer, but without Champions League football next year and a negative-minded manager perhaps he could be tempted to move abroad.
Today even before his mistake he looked disinterested in today's match and in the second half was having to go deeper into midfield to win the ball because there was nobody there to do so. As a result even with the aim of trying to get back into the game to make sure their home season ended on a high, Gerrard was unable to do so.
This meant that when the team were on the offense, the team captain was nowhere near the goal to get on a cross or even mount a shot on goal. Alonso was such an influential player for Liverpool and the failure to properly replace him was a huge blow.
Perhaps last season's success in finishing second was the side overachieving and it was too much to ask of Liverpool to seriously win the title this year. Perhaps the loss of assistant Pako Ayestaran in the summer of 2008 still is affecting the side with Benitez unable to replace the highly-rated coaches training methods since then.
The fact of the matter is Liverpool at the moment are not good enough. Their fans, perhaps, may not have wanted them to win today against Chelsea. They would have wanted to go home knowing hopeful that their side could mount a challenge next season, with a good performance.
Had Alberto Aquiliani's shot gone in perhaps Liverpool would have won the game, but one game does not make a season. Liverpool do not deserve to finish in the top four this season. They did not deserve to reach the Champions League knockout stages and they certainly did not deserve to reach the Europa League final.
The Premier League is a harsh league and clubs are fighting so hard to get in the Champions League. For the sake of the club's immediate future Liverpool's new owners have to get rid of Benitez, because next season they simply cannot afford for another dire season like this one. Major change is needed, as it's surely no coincidence that not one Liverpool player failed to make the PFA team of the year.