Date:Tuesday January 22 2008
Owen Hargreaves believes Liverpool's title challenge is over and was over before Monday's draw against Aston Villa at Anfield. They, the United midfielder argues, are too far off us and Arsenal to have any chance of landing the biggest prize.
It's not rocket science to work it out. However, I would ask if they ever had any chance of winning the Premiership. I wrote in the summer, prior to the big kick-off that while Liverpool might be able to improve their performance points wise, there are at least two better teams in the league (Chelsea and United, I thought then), so they have little chance of winning it.
It was all hype and glory in the summer for them with getting Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel, another last pieces of the jigsaw that somehow never looks completed. For me, those who get on Benitez's back have a point but those who defend him make valid arguments too.
First and foremost it is astonishing that not just fans but journalists actually thought Liverpool could win the league. Now really: Kewell and Benayoun on the flanks for Liverpool, Giggs and Ronaldo for United. Compare Aurelio and Riise to Evra. Torres is the real deal, he's a great signing for them - but his strike partner is either Kuyt or Voronin or Crouch. Rooney is a great player and his strike partner is a fabulous player, Carlos Tevez.
Babel, at present, is the equivalent of Nani, with the only exception that we have much better attackers in the squad than Nani... In central defense, Carragher is good but guys, it's no anti-Liverpool bias that England managers kept selecting Ferdinand instead. Simply, Rio is better though not as appreciated by some because he's not the archetypical English centre-half: he's skilled, and does not have the strained looks of a man who's tortured when he's playing. Carragher and Terry always look like what they do cost them every ounce of their strength and stamina whereas Ferdinand makes things look easy. For some reason, the former style is more appreciated in England, regardless of their true quality...
Agger might be brilliant but he's always injured so it's difficult to count on him whereas Hyypia is not up to it anymore. Xabi Alonso is a silky passer but does little else and he's another one who spends ages in the treatment room. Sissoko can't pass to save his life and though Gerrard is admittedly a quality player, he lacks footballing intelligence. He can only play at one speed, that is 100 mph hence the passes going astray and that's why he's conceding possession too often in crucial situations.
So, I don't think they were ever really in that title race. The Liverpool hype was at its peak after the 6-0 win over Derby... I mean, it was Derby County, for god's sake, the worst team in Premiership history. You can talk about rotation all day but even a settled starting eleven would be of little help to Liverpool as they have a lot of players who are simply not good enough.
Now I know what their fans will say: Benitez did not have enough funds to spend. And it's certainly true that he had much less than either United or Chelsea can fork out for players. Benitez cannot afford the luxury of collecting quality English players, an activity that is one of Fergie's favourite pastimes: Ferdinand, Rooney, Carrick, Hargreaves, all came for big money.
However, Fergie can unearth cheap gems and does it better than Benitez, the disastrous Bellion-Kleberson-Djemba twins experiment aside. The combined cost of our three most consistent performers, Ronaldo, Vidic and Evra was about 24.7m. That's roughly the same amount that Liverpool had spent on Torres and while he's a sucess, the Crouch-Kuyt-Pennant trio cost 22.6 - for that price he could have got Ronaldo, Vidic and Evra...
So I believe that the truth is between the opinions of the Benitez-bashers and the Benitez-worshippers. This squad is by no means equipped for a title challenge so it's not realistic to expect him to deliver it and amid all the uncertainity with the owner it is even more difficult so a few draws should not . But it is his responsibility that the squad looks only marginally better than when he took over in 2008.
And lest we forget, his league record against Fergie reads 0-1-6... Long may the Rafalution continue!
Date:Tuesday January 22 2008
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