Reactions to Torres substitution reveal that fourth place is as distant as ever for Liverpool

By on April 5, 2010

FernandoTorres

By Phil Dickinson.

Another disappointing result, another blow to Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions, another Monday morning inquest from fans and press. It’s been a very familiar story for Rafa and his Reds this season, far too familiar.

But this time around, the team’s failure to secure an away day victory and close the gap on their rivals paled into relative insignificance against the backdrop of obvious bemusement and disbelief from senior players. The look on captain, Steven Gerrard’s face as striker Fernando Torres was hauled off 20 minutes into the 2nd half said it all. Perplexed, confounded and exasperated, it was the look of a man losing faith in his manager.

Benitez has since blamed fatigue for bringing off his main goal threat during the side’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham City on Sunday.

“Fernando knew we needed to win and he knew he was tired. All the players want to be on the pitch and make a difference but you could see Ngog with fresh legs, and also Babel, making a big difference in the last few minutes.”

If Torres knew he was tired his reaction to coming off, including a confused shake of his blonde locks, didn’t seem to suggest so. If his captain’s contorted frown was anything to go by, Steven Gerrard didn’t realise Torres was tired either.

What was absolutely clear was that Liverpool’s most senior first team players fundamentally disagreed with one of their manager’s key decisions in a match of the upmost importance. It was the latest, and probably most telling, episode in a series of events that hint Benitez has completely lost the dressing room.

Many dismissed the outbursts of Albert Riera and Ryan Babel as those of overpaid prima donnas who just refused to knuckle down and show some professionalism during periods of not being in the first team. Now that the clubs’ more professional stars are showing signs of discontent, fans are being forced to ask whether it is in fact Rafa that is the problem.

Going into April, I was confident that Liverpool could still haul themselves back into 4th place. Looking at the fixtures of all 3 sides involved in the Champions League hunt and analysing Liverpool’s more confident performances against Portsmouth, Lille and Sunderland, it seemed perfectly possible, even probable.

Sunderland’s 3-1 victory against Spurs on Saturday further seemed to confirm that this race wasn’t over. With the top 3 next up for Tottenham, the game at The Stadium of Light was one most Liverpool fans would have assumed the Lillywhites would win – which they didn’t. And because of Spurs’ failure to beat Sunderland, and because Manchester City themselves still have some very tough games still to play, theoretically Liverpool’s stalemate at St. Andrews doesn’t completely end their chances of 4th just yet – providing they win their remaining 5 games, of course.

The hope of the Liverpool fan fails however when the apparent dressing room unrest is brought to mind. The question is, how can Liverpool possibly expect to win 5 games on the bounce, including one against title-chasing Chelsea, when the players doubt the manager and his decisions?

The task that Liverpool faced in rescuing their season was a monumental one. But Liverpool fans have always had faith in the ability of the club and team to rise to a challenge and triumph against the odds – to do things the hard way and still succeed.

Nevertheless, looking at the face of Liverpool’s great symbol of strength only to see confusion and exasperation gives every indication that this is a bridge too far for Benitez’s broken dressing room. While Liverpool have in the past always been capable of putting a run of 5 or 6 league wins together, in the current climate The Reds look totally incapable, impotent and utterly phased by the needlessly difficult task they have set themselves.

The majority of Liverpool’s players are a professional and disciplined bunch. The likes of Gerrard, Torres, Kuyt and Carragher will continue giving what they can for the cause without resorting to publically criticising the manager. But whether they believe in Benitez enough, whether decisions like the one to take off Torres on Sunday put up psychological barriers that inhibit players, is another matter entirely.

Having got an away goal in Portugal, Liverpool still have every chance of progressing in the Europa League. Benfica showed they are a very dangerous side in the first leg but the atmosphere at Anfield will be highly charged and will help the team put aside Sunday’s disappointment, if only for the time being.

However, even if they progress to the semi finals of the Europa League, Liverpool will return to Premier League action once again under the microscope, under investigation and under pressure.

Sadly, I no longer believe Rafa is able to lift his players enough to cope with the burden of this challenge. Liverpool may win a fair few games between now and the end of the season. They may even surprise us and win a trophy. But, given that the players don’t look like they believe 100% in Benitez’s management, the prospect of winning enough games to finish 4th looks exceptionally bleak.

The fixture list made 4th place look achievable; the body language of Liverpool’s players this weekend showed us it is almost certainly not. At St. Andrews this Sunday, it seems as though a substitution revealed to us more than the final result.

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3 Comments

  1. Terry G

    April 5, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Benitez is a clown !!!!! an arrogant one at that , he knew we had to win and yet subs one of best players and best hopes of a goal.He has failed the our club and supporters and has lost the dressing room. The sooner he and the Yanks ship out the better.We have a core of great players and yes weve had injuries but so do other clubs. The injuries have highlighted Benitez inability over 3 years to provide world class cover for Gerrard or Torres. Yes the Yanks are useless but so too is this Spanish Clown !!! You are a massive liability and haave been for some time, your negative approach cost us the title last season. Youve had six years and more than enough cash !!!!, were further away from the title than when you inherited and won the champions league with Houlliers squad. Your negative tactics lost the 2007 champions league and your arrogance and pig headed approach is deplorable. We will never win the laegue with you at the helm , do the honourable thing , take responsibility for once in your life and go back to Spain, Italy anywhere but Anfield, youve well past your sell by date !!!! adios spanish waiter !!!!!

  2. bigman

    April 5, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Whilst I was utterly disgusted at Riera’s recent training ground behaviour, and the now infamous sinking ship comments; I think there might be some merit in what he said about rafa as a man-manager. In truth, I think one or two of the more senior players lost faith in his tactical ability months agao. Gerrard has looked a completely different player this season showing only brief flashes of his usual brilliance – he looks like a player who doesn’t wabnt to play for Rafa anymore! As for Sunday’s game against Brum, it seems clear to me that Rafa is prioritising the Europa Cup against a champion’s league spot next season… his decision to take off Nando was inexplicable and the post match interview was embarrassing to listen to in terms of how pleased he was in how the team played etc…etc.. I am sorry to say that Rafa has taken this team as far as he can, and now it is time for him and his zonal marking system to depart Anfield. We need an attack minded manager who can inspire and motivate; a manager who speaks regularly to his squad and a manager who is not affraid to stick with the same starting 11 as the week before if the results and performance justify. Who that manager will be is another question. I agree; in his defence he hasn’t received the financial backing from those lying yanks (dumb and dumber) but that is also a separate issue, I also agree that he hasn’t spent what little funds he has had wisely (give or take two or three exceptions). The big question is, even if he did have some decent funds made available to him, would any world class player want to come and play for him at a club that is at best a mid table side with no prospect of champions league footie next season? His tacticts are too negative, his insistance on playing mediocre players such as insua, and levia to mention but a few, has cost him dear this season. I agree with this article, in my view there is so much wrong on and off the pitch at Liverpool FC, it’s difficult to see where our salvation will come from. I wouldn’t be at all suprised to see either Gerrard or Torres leave this summer, the look on their faces spoke a thousand words about what they think of his tactics….. whilst 4th place is not impossible to achieve, I fear it will be a bridge too far for Rafa. The clock is now ticking on his remaining time at Anfield.

  3. Cambo

    April 8, 2010 at 7:08 am

    As a Gooner, I would have have wanted him gone long before now.

    Benitez did not win the Champions League for Liverpool. Steven Gerrard did. It was his inspiration and captaincy that picked the team up.

    Benitez did not win them the FA Cup against West Ham either. Steven Gerrard did with two of the best and important goals that I have ever seen.

    All Benitez had to do was name Gerrard in the team, Steven did the rest.

    Might I add that SG also got them into the knockout stages of the champions league the season they won it with another super important goal against Olympiacos.

    Benitez has a negative approach, Liverpool are for the most part, boring to watch, and only the effort and brilliance of Steven Gerrard has kept Benitez in the job.

    If I supported Liverpool, I’d say swallow bitter pill of the payout Benitez would receive and look for a new manager stat. Or it will be Stevie G on the way out of Anfield first. Only to be later followed by Rafa.

    I’d say it’s worth 10-15 million to keep Gerrard and cut Rafa.

    But of course, it is better for Arsenal if Benitez stays as Liverpool manager.

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