“Even with everyone fit, I can’t see Liverpool getting through the Champions League group stage or being consistent enough to mount any domestic challenge” – Tony Cascarino

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We have just entered into a long-term agreement with Rafa. Our family is extraordinarily pleased with him, we think he is absolutely as good as there is in the business and I am sure the Hicks [family] feel the same way. We just extended his contract. I think the run of results disappoints everybody. Certainly, it disappoints the fans and it disappoints Rafa. I know he is disappointed. We are all disappointed but we are in this together. I think we all saw the same thing [that Benítez looked downbeat following the Lyon defeat] but that’s not something I am going to comment on publicly.” – George Gillett.

Runner-up: “He [Benitez] did not speak to us at all [after the Lyon defeat]. Everything was very quiet after a bad result for us. It is not unusual for him to say nothing. Sometimes, players are cooling down and not everyone is in the dressing room at the same time. Sometimes, he has a chance to do it, sometimes not. The next two games are very important for us. Arsenal could see us go out of the cup while United are seven points clear already – and it could be 10 if they win. That is not what we wanted at the start of the season. We have to close that gap and keep getting closer to them.” – Fabio Aurelio.


Today’s overview: And Liverpool fans had started the week thinking a beach ball was there biggest problem.

Liverpool are still being smacked around from pillar to post this Thursday, kicking off with Andy Hunter’s 10-point list of mistakes made by Rafa Benitez, including his summer transfer policy, his poor handling of senior players and taking on too many internal battles. James Lawton delivers the angriest opinion of the day though, spewing “we know well enough, and have done so for some time, the answer to ‘What’s it all about, Rafa?’ It is almost entirely about Rafa, and no team has prospered long term under such egocentric control… Players simply do not seem to grow under Benitez – at least not beyond the point of mediocrity.”

Matt Lawton then spells out why Benitez should get the boot. “Results need to improve and they need to improve fast, otherwise Benitez will have to pay the price for failure and his failure to strengthen a side that pushed United so close in last season’s title race. He accepted that responsibility when he seized total control.”

And the Liverpool-beating continues unabated.

Steve Wilson appears all to happy barking “Call this a crisis? I’ve got bad news for you Liverpool fans, it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.” And although its only October, Tony Cascarino goes on record to boldly (and/or foolishly) predict the doom facing Liverpool this season. “Even with everyone fit, I can’t see Liverpool getting through the Champions League group stage or being consistent enough to mount any domestic challenge.”

Assessing the financial implications of failure facing Liverpool, David Conn notes how domestic success is more important rewarding than European success. “The financial hit from failing to qualify for the knockout stage is substantial, although not as calamitous as it would be for Liverpool to lose to Manchester United, fail to pull round their Premier League form and drop out of the top four completely.”

A passionate defence of Rafa Benitez is served up by Liverpool fan John Mackin in the Guardian. “Before Benítez we were stumbling around the Uefa Cup. In five years he’s taken us right to the top of Uefa’s rankings – as sure a testament as any to his calibre as a coach. This season was always going to be hard given the expectations. But it’s been conveniently forgotten that last season saw our under-funded club punching above its financial weight.” Also coming to Rafa’s defence is Gabriele Marcotti. “Liverpool would be mad to sack Benitez now… Sure, Liverpool can be ugly to watch at times. And yes, he has made some awful signings. But, even with those signings, Liverpool did well. And just because you have made bad signings in the past does not mean you will continue to make them in the future. Too often managers are given too much time. This is not one of those occasions. Give him another month.”

Tonyquestions whether Liverpool can afford to sack Rafa. “A salary in the region of £4 million a season would entitle him to a payoff of about £18 million… the club could not afford to make the four signings their manager sought in the summer, so it is questionable if they would have the means to remove him.” The same point is made by Matt Lawton, who chimes “Rafa Benitez’s future at Liverpool is secure for now – because the troubled club cannot afford to sack him.”

In a supplementary article Tony Barrett tries his best to excuse Benitez of failure by shifting the blame on the American owners. “After finishing second last year the hope was that there would have been investment in the playing staff to strengthen from good foundations. But the owners told Benitez to balance the books – he was only able to spend what he brought in and that has resulted in the squad lacking the strength and depth that it should have.” Mark Lawrenson also picks on Hicks and Gillett to absolve Benitez of wrongdoing, arguing “the real issue here for me is what’s going on behind the scenes with George Gillet and Tom Hicks. I wouldn’t trust these guys to stir my tea. Who does Rafa talk to now? There’s no direction or leadership from above. Just chaos, endless talk of financial problems and the club being sold on again. What a mess and that is bound to filter down and impact hugely on Benitez.”

Phil Thomas simplifies the trouble at Anfield by scribbling “at approximately 9.30pm on Tuesday, Rafa Benitez entered a dead-end street… when Benayoun was replaced, Benitez did more than simply take off the one player who could produce the spark to save the side’s skin. He took off the 12th man. Sucked the energy from The Kop.”

Taking a more broad view on the Benitez-sacking debate, Kevin Mitchell offers a global opinion of the life of a manager in today’s football climate. “That’s football, a business permanently in the grip of unreasonable expectations. The demands for success are so persistent and impatient that managers know the day they arrive at a club is merely the beginning of the end. Very few avoid the knife of faltering chairmen. Benítez does not need reminding that he will last only as long as the owners hold their nerve.”

Andy Cole, who recently started as a pundit for the Independent, is quickly becoming one of the easiest voices to ignore, farting rubbish opinions including “in my opinion, Liverpool’s best recent chance of winning the title was last season… [and] I don’t see Liverpool winning the title [this season]” before ending off by unbelievably writing “[X Factor] is massive hit in my house. My wife and my daughter, Faith, just can’t get enough, and if the producers are reading this, I’d appreciate it if you get me some tickets for them to watch live!”

Moving on, Dominic Fifield details the Jekyll & Hyde nature of Chelsea’s defence in recent weeks. “For all their defensive frailties in recent Premier League defeats at Wigan and Aston Villa, Chelsea are now the only side not to have conceded in the Champions League so far this season.” Looking to explain Chelsea’s flip-flopping backline, Jason Burt hangs Ricardo Carvalho out to dry. “The chief culprit in that loss of concentration has… been Carvalho. Even the most cursory review of Chelsea’s errors at Aston Villa last Saturday, conceding two goals from corner kicks, will have provided glaring evidence that he was at fault… [Last night] it was easier without Carvalho – which will worry the defender.”

It’s a big day in North London as Arsenal prepare for their annual general meeting, and Gary Jacob is expecting fireworks regarding questions of the ownership of the Gunners. “The real issues are off the pitch, where the battle for control appears to have been won by Kroenke. Peter Hill-Wood, the chairman, will face scrutiny after he said that he would “welcome” a takeover from Kroenke, having claimed that Arsenal did not want “his sort” when the American began buying shares in 2007.”

The vacancy at Middesborough to replace Gareth Southgate looks like being filled today. According to Louise Taylor, “Gordon Strachan has emerged as the clear favourite” while adding the caveat that “should negotiations with Strachan break down, Gibson could be tempted to turn to Alan Curbishley – who he has previously tried to recruit – or Paul Jewell.”

As usual, we finish off with the transfer lies.

Sean Taylor picks up the story covered by most papers that “Leicester City chairman Milan Mandaric insists wages would not be a stumbling block in the Championship club’s sensational swoop for the former Netherlands international Edgar Davids.”

Is Robinho staying at Eastlands after all? According to Kieran Daley, “Barcelona have not approached Manchester City about their forward Robinho since the summer, according to the European champions’ sporting director Txiki Begiristain.”

The Sun go into overdrive this Thursday spreading the transfer gossip.

Mark Irwin claims “Tottenham will make a £6million move for Manchester City midfield ace Michael Johnson in the January window,” a nameless article announces that “Martin O’Neill is hot on the trail of Barnsley’s wonderkid striker Reuben Noble-Lazarus,” while yet another faceless article reports that “Sunderland  will make a move for Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson in January.” Finally we learn that “Roberto Martinez is poised to pip Birmingham and West Ham to Espanyol striker Raul Tamudo.”