After the game, Benitez said:
"If you analyse the first half we were doing well, even with their goal but then came the Mascherano incident. We were a good team in the first half and the sending off changed everything. We had some chances, we should have scored, we were controlling the game and everything changed with Mascherano".
In the words of Jules Winnfield: "Allow me to retort".
Reasons why Benitez is responsible for the defeat:
Overly defensive line-up
Against the bottom team in the league, Benitez's starting 11 contained 8 defensive-minded players!
5 of those players are defenders; two play defensive-midfield roles, and one is - for all intents and purposes - a defensive right-midfielder
Playing two holding midfielders
Why did Liverpool need to play with two defensive-mids against the POOREST DEFENCE IN THE LEAGUE? Yet more evidence of Benitez's stultifyingly defensive approach. The team should have been set-up to attack; instead, it was set-up not to lose.
WHY?! Benitez's treatment of the player is unbelievably frustrating. Benayoun is one of the club's best goal threats; he has 6 goals and 4 assists already this season; his superior ball retention skills and direct play are vital to the team, yet Benitez continually benches/subs him off.
Liverpool needed to win the Portsmouth game, so why not play the most attacking line-up available?! Why play it safe and go defensive against a team that should be brushed aside with ease.
Benitez seemingly has a pathological aversion to playing progressive, attacking football and allowing his players to express themselves.
Bringing Aurelio on when we needed to win
So - we're 1-0 down in a must-win game and crying out for creativity, and what does Benitez do? He ignores dedicated ATTACKING players like N'gog and Babel, and brings on a defender. Once again, this is a CAUTIOUS move. Aurelio may (allegedly) provide an attacking threat but his instincts are those of a defender, and funnily enough, that's because HE'S A DEFENDER!
Benitez has used the same tactic several times this season, but has it ever worked?! Has bringing on Aurelio ever propelled the team to victory? NO. If Benitez really wanted to win the game he would have brought on N'gog and Babel. Instead, he (IMO) played for the draw.
Changing a winning team.
Liverpool played 442 against Wigan and won the game. Why change things against Portsmouth?! Why not just stick with a winning team? For about 5 seconds on Wednesday night, I thought Benitez might finally have seen the light, but inside I knew that he would never stick with 442. After all, there's no point in sticking with a formation and line-up that works, is there?
Persisting with Gerrard behind Torres
This tactic no longer works! Anyone can see that. Forget what's happened in the distant past; look at the present and the recent past; it is clear that Gerrard/Torres is no longer a viable option.
Another reason that partnership should be retired is that it makes the team ultra-reliant on just two players. Usually, Gerrard and Torres don't spark in the formation, the team suffers. In a 442, the responsibility is spread around the team a little more, and Torres has another striker with whom to share the burden.
If we are to play Torres up front alone, then as I've argued for months, Benayoun should play in the hole, and Gerrard should play in central midfield.
Building a team that lacks creativity
It was 70 minutes before Liverpool had a shot on target today. That is simply unacceptable. This is what happens when you prioritise defence over attack, and play a creatively bankrupt midfield of Lucas, Masch, Dossena and Kuyt
Anti-football midfield partnership
How many times does this point need to be made? The Lucas/Mascherano partnership is simply not good enough. Playing two defensive-minded holding midfielders in *every game* is suffocating the team and providing no play-making impact whatsoever.
The team needs a playmaker; someone who can start attacks; spray passes about; link midfield to attack; join attacks and chip in with assists/goals. (Hmmm. Remind you of anyone?)
Lucas and Masch provide none of that. Everyone can see that their partnership is not beneficial to the team but Benitez pigheadedly refuses to change or adapt, which is one of his biggest weaknesses.
As I've argued from the start of the season, Gerrard - when fit - should be playing in CM alongside either Lucas or Masch, with Yossi playing in the hole. When Liverpool HAVE played this formation, the team has won and scored lots of goals (Hull, for example).
And consider this: Lucas on the bench v Wigan = Liverpool win. Lucas starts v Portsmouth = Liverpool defeat. Coincidence? I think not.
Persisting with Dirk Kuyt
What did Kuyt contribute to the performance in an attacking sense? Next to nothing. As usual. Still, he continues to start and finish every game while players who contribute (i.e. Yossi), are regularly benched.
Building an unbelievably slow team
Torres aside, is there a slower first XI in the entire league? Watching Liverpool's players struggle to run is really quite painful. And forget about counter-attacks; what is the point when our players are too slow to take advantage?
Spending 17m on a defensively-suspect right back
Once again, Glen Johnson gifted a goal to the opposition. His 'defensive' header in the box went straight to a Belhadj, who hammered in the opening goal. Against Arsenal last week, he was responsible for both goals conceded; the own goal, and then allowing Andrei Arshavin the space to fire off a shot.
Johnson has been excellent at times going forward but there is no denying that fact that he is defensively suspect and prone lapses in concentration/awareness.
It is no coincidence that since Johnson arrived, Liverpool's defensive solidity has plummeted. Yes, there are other reasons for our poor defensive performance, but Johnson's attacking ability should not mask the reality that he is (arguably) not a long-term solution to Liverpool's right back problem.
Benitez inexplicably chose to spend 17m on a defender when there were other areas of the team that needed strengthening more urgently. Did we really *need* Johnson? I would argue no. Liverpool could've bought a good right back for 6-8m, and put the rest towards a back-up striker/left-right attacking midfielder.
Spending 18m on Aquilani
The Aquilani farce continues. He is now injured again (quelle surprise); that is not the problem though; we should expect Aquilani to pick up little knocks here and there. The problem is that Benitez chose to buy a player with a horrendous injury history. This issue has been discussed to death but it was a negligent, indefensible decision. The team has suffered as a result of not having a top-quality FIT player making a contribution from the start of the season.
To add insult to injury, Benitez's handling of Aquilani has been a joke, with player clearly frustrated and (probably) demotivated after only 4 months at Anfield. If Benitez stays at Anfield, Aquilani will not last 5 years. He will be gone/dumped, just like Robbie Keane.
Staggering inability to motivate players/inspire confidence
Benitez is not and never has been a motivator. In my view, he does not inspire confidence in his players and he does not have the ability to get the best out his team. We have seen examples of this before, but this season is s sustained exampled of his inability to properly motivate players.
Do I need to remind anyone that Liverpool were playing the league's WORST TEAM?! If Benitez cannot motivate his players to do the business against Portsmouth (!) then there really is a fundamental problem somewhere.
The red card was inconvenient, but there was still enough quality on the pitch to get something out of the game. If we had a manager who was capable of motivating players, perhaps the game might not have been lost.
This season has been a ceaseless merry-go round of misery; even in our darkest days under Graeme Souness, it was never this bad; and whilst Benitez is at the club it is never going to change. He has been making the same mistakes over and over for the last 5 years, but the CL/FA Cup win, and the latter part of last season papered over the cracks.
Basically, 5 years of overly defensive line-ups; dodgy substitutions; poor transfer performance, and man-management catastrophes have come home to roost, and Liverpool have suffered big time.
I really hate to say this, but I told you so.
I have been arguing for the last 4 years (and more) that Benitez is not right man for the job. I have been highlighting the same mistakes over and over again, trying to illustrate exactly *why* he's not the man for the job. I've been shouted down endlessly by the pro-Benitez brigade, but maybe now people will finally WAKE UP to the fact that he is NOT the right man to lead Liverpool.
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