Liverpool-Reading: Rafael Benitez Continues to Frustrate

Jonathan ManleyCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2007

Icon"In Rafa we trust."

That was the message displayed on flags and banners all around Anfield in recent weeks, as Liverpool fans showed their appreciation for the oft-maligned manager.

Given the club's recent success, the fans' faith in Rafael Benitez seemed to be well-placed.

And then came Reading.

The away fixture seemed to promise another three points for the Reds. Reading hadn't beaten any of the Big Four teams since their promotion a few seasons ago.

Unfortunately for Liverpool fans, nothing is ever certain in football—and the Reds experienced their first defeat of their EPL campaign in falling 3-1 to a well-organised home squad this Saturday.

Benitez decided before the game to make a few changes, notably pushing Steven Gerrard out of central midfield and instead playing three strikers. The Liverpool players looked ill at ease in the new system.

And that was only the manager's first mistake.

When Reading took a 3-1 lead, Benitez pulled Gerrard—when the captain was the only Liverpool player who seemed capable of dragging his side back into the match.

Sure, Liverpool face a crucial Champions League game in Marseille and a titanic Premier League showdown with Manchester United this week—but a team with designs on the EPL title can't afford to concede points to the likes of Reading.

It's common knowledge that Liverpool players and fans covet an EPL title above all else—and to this point it's seemed that Benitez shares that passion.

But it's hard to believe that Rafa is really serious about a domestic championship after his decisions on Saturday night.

Liverpool aren't the same team without Steven Gerrard—period. Removing him this weekend was tantamount to accepting defeat in what was a must-win game.

As I see it, Liverpool need a solid base system, with only one or two subs (injury permitting) per game. There doesn't seem to be any benefit in tinkering with the lineup when the team has been performing at such a high level.

Of course, things could look a whole lot better for Liverpool after Tuesday's visit to Marseille and the Manchester United fixture on Sunday at Anfield.

But should the club be eliminated from Europe and drift further away from the top of the Premier League, the pro-Rafa banners will be harder and harder to find on game day.