Liverpool sink to new lows
The disastrous home defeat on penalties to Northampton Town in the third round of the Carling Cup has once again brought into sharp focus the alarming decline of Liverpool football club as a major force in English football.
Roy Hodgson’s side have made a limp start to the current Premier League campaign with just 5 points amassed from five admittedly tough fixtures, and expectations have hardly been lower of a team widely tipped to challenge strongly or even win the title over the last few years.
Nonetheless, they were expected to roll over their League Two opponents convincingly in Wednesday’s tie, but instead contrived to produce arguably the most humiliating result in the club’s proud history, surpassing the infamous Worcester City defeat before Bill Shankly arrived and changed the course of English football history.
Liverpool were simply dreadful for most of the match, devoid of quality, guile and outfought and out-thought by their humble opponents. There are no excuses for such a lifeless and diabolical display from a team littered with enough experienced first-teamers, squad players and prospective academy graduates to win comfortably. Hodgson wore the look of a man incandescent with rage for a great part of the match, and though criticism is likely to be levelled at him for fielding an experimental team and resting major stars like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, it is hard not to feel he has been badly let down by the players he had given an opportunity to stake a claim for future first team involvement.
In one of the few competitions they had any chance of winning this season, and with Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton all making unexpected early exits, it is extremely careless that Liverpool have followed suit with such a kind home draw.
So where did it all go wrong? Title challengers to mid-table also-rans in just over a year. Conventional wisdom points to the almost unanimously despised American owners and boardroom troubles as the main culprits for Liverpool’s current malaise. Though these distractions have undoubtedly made an indelible mark and coincided with the remarkable drop in form over the last year and a half, this assumption, though not without significant merit, is simplistic and only half the story. Undoubtedly, the ongoing squabbles, mooted and then failed takeovers and general lack of money to invest in a remarkably average squad have been major problems for the Premier League giants. But, as with the desperate showing in the Carling cup on Wednesday night, the bulk of the criticism must lay with the current and former managers and playing staff.
The truth is, Rafa Benitez made some disastrous moves in the transfer market over his six year reign, but none more so than in the last year of his tenure. The money that was made available for transfers through the board or recouped sales was simply spent in a reckless fashion. With the goal burden on the classy but injury prone Torres and captain marvel Gerrard glaringly obvious to most outside observers, it was assumed a quality striker would be brought in by Benitez upon the sale of Xabi Alonso. Instead, the Spaniard added an injured and unproven Alberto Aquilani and spent a ludicrously inflated £18m on Glen Johnson whilst offloading a perfectly capable and talented right back in Arbeloa for a paltry £5m.
Also, the man management of the aforementioned Xabi Alonso (arguably Liverpool’s best and most influential player for many years, Gerrard aside) was simply diabolical. Much to his credit, Alonso continued to be an outstanding performer in his final season for the Reds after the botched attempts to land Gareth Barry as a replacement, but understandably he decided to leave for Real Madrid the following summer. Factor in the flop signings of Ryan Babel and Andreas Dossena and suddenly Liverpool’s squad was starting to look decidedly average. Midfielder Lucas Leiva has been much maligned by the Koppites, and put in a typically awful and unproductive performance on Wednesday night. But such is the dearth of talent currently in Liverpool’s squad, the Brazilian is a regular first teamer. So, from being so close to their maiden Premier League title in 2008-9, in which only a few sloppy home draws stopped them from being deservedly crowned champions, Liverpool flopped badly in 2009-10, finishing a lowly seventh with an incredible 11 defeats.
There is no doubt Hodgson inherited a real mess from his predecessor, and early accounts suggest he is struggling to arrest the slide. It is hard to see the signings of Konchesky, Jovanovic, Mereiles and Poulsen taking Liverpool to the next level, and perhaps this proud club will be spending a few seasons in the relative wilderness unless lady luck shines brightly on them. Realistically, Hodgson may have to use his undoubted ability to stabilise the club and provide a minimum of Europa League football until the much needed takeover of the club happens. Though he has a difficult job on his hands placating the hordes of loyal fans who have come to expect a lot more. And rumours will continue to amass concerning the future of Torres unless Liverpool can be seen to be challenging the elite both financially and on the pitch.
Roy Hodgson knew he had a tough job on his hands on taking on the Liverpool hot seat this summer. Perhaps the task of rebuilding a huge but sickly club is much bigger than he first thought.