Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez, may find, come the end of the season, that his steadfast and unmovable rotation policy, may just cost him his job. While Benitez does have a Champions League and an FA Cup win to his credit during his spell at Liverpool, if he once again fails to deliver a Premier League challenge, he may find his time at Liverpool brought to an end.
It is perhaps true to suggest that had Benitez been at Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, he would not have survived this long. Since Liverpool last won the league title, 17 years ago, they have never been able to sustain a substantial challenge for league honours and have in reality never been close. The fans of Liverpool have demanded better from their team and have been let down time and time again. Rafa was seen as their saviour, especially after landing the Champions League in his very first season in charge. But that was nothing but a false dawn, and the time has now come for Rafa to put up or shut up.
His time at Anfield is becoming more memorable for his sour whining then any on field success, and if he is to turn that ship around, he had better deliver results on the pitch and not sound bites after a match. The signs were always there that things may not be as cosy as he would like the world to believe. Barely had they tasted triumph in Istanbul against Milan and captain Steven Gerrard had handed in a transfer request. After speculation linking him to both free spending Chelsea and Real Madrid, Gerrard withdrew his request, but this perhaps had more to do with the fans reaction to his action, then ay loyalty to his manager.
While Rafa may point to his success in Spain with Valencia as his proof that his rotation system works, the form of Liverpool suggests he is wrong. While it is true that Liverpool have not been challengers for League honours for the last 17 years, and not just under Benitez, it is also true that they have never had as strong a squad as they do now during that period. While a good start had many on Mersyside hoping that their time had finally come, the last few weeks have brought them back down to reality. Had it not been for Fernando Torres Liverpool would be languishing in mid table. And that is where the pain shows. It has always been said that Liverpool are a one man team, relying to much on Steven Gerrard to win them games, and without him they would be a mediocre team. Now with Torres up front and Gerrard in midfield they have two match winners. Yet Gerrards form has been patchy and inconsistent, like Lampard at Chelsea, he has not been the driving force that has forced Liverpool forward, and whether this has to do with tiredness, injury or just bad form, Liverpool have been paying the price.
So when you have one player capable of winning you games on his own, as Torres has had to do, what do you do with him? You surely play him in every league game and Champions League match he is fit for, and leave him out in the Carling Cup, right? Wrong. Benitez rotation system has seen Torres playing almost every other game, and bizarrely featuring in the Carling Cup, when Benitez has moaned that he is in need of a rest. Torres scored a Carling Cup hat trick against Reading, but surely a winner against Spurs or Birmingham would have been greater reward?
In 153 matches Rafa has sent the same team out once. His changes have not been one or two here but rather five or six, changes to half the team, so that it is a completely different team that takes the pitch match after match. This type of inconsistent team selection has been his failure in a league that demands the best 11 take the field whenever possible. Consistency is the key to long term success in the league. Form is fickle, but needs game time to be sustained, so while he may have a form player, like Torres, banging in the goals, he must be picked again and again so that the team can benifit from his rich form. With all the shopping and changing at Liverpool form can not be sustained, in individuals and in the team.
Team is the key word that Rafa’s broken English seems to be battling with. His players are in one week out the next, playing in one position this match and another that match, that a true team spirit and team roles can not be formulated. Kolo Toure knows that when he plays the ball out of defense Cesc Fabregas will be the first person he sees calling for a pass, Paul Scholes knows that when he sprays a pass down the right Christiano Ronaldo will be waiting for it. The only thing a Liverpool player knows is that Pepe Reina should always be behind him. They seem like virtual strangers sometimes on the pitch, not knowing who’s going to make what run or who’s going to be at the end of a cross. This hurts the new players the most, as they are not given the help needed in settling and adapting to a difficult league, particularly when they come from weaker leagues. What this all means is that it takes individual brilliance from a Torres or Gerrard to win games, and this can;t happen every week.
Unless Rafa delivers the Premiership title this season, it may be time for Liverpools board to start looking for someone knew, someone who does tinker as much, a consistent manager for a consistent league. Rafa’s number may soon be up.