“How Rafa Benitez holds his head up high after this, heaven only knows” – Matt Lawton

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “Clearly it is difficult now but it is not impossible. We have to win our next game and see what happens between Fiorentina and Lyon. Our approach to the last game will depend on what happens next, but we have to keep going. We have done miracles before and maybe we can do one again. We still have a chance but we cannot talk about the other games if we do not do our job against Debrecen first.” – Rafa Benitez.

Runner-up: “Had [my wife] or I known then that the acceptance of what we all felt was a kind gesture would have resulted in the tainting of her character and mine together with the untold embarrassment to which we are still being subjected, none of us would have attended the dinner, nor would she have accepted what we thought was a gift in honour of her birthday. I have faced and continue to face all kinds of indignities from all manner of persons, but when these insults touch my wife, it represents an all time low. Equally disappointing is the deafening silence from you [Lord Triesman] and the FA and which seems to support these allegations. No one has sought to correct this betrayal in a way that would unequivocally remove any doubt or question not only in the global village at large but among my few peers where honour is valued and character is cherished.” – Jack Warner.

Today’s overview: It’s another horrible day for Liverpool fans after another disappointing result against Lyon in the Champions League.

Delivering the first body-blow is Oliver Kay. “The trouble with believing in miracles is that you come to rely on them… Benítez’s team were plunged into the darkness that has engulfed them since they fell to defeat away to Fiorentina five weeks ago, the start of a wretched eight-match sequence that has yielded one win.” Forlorn, Tony Barrett charges Liverpool as failures. “With Liverpool on the verge of being eliminated from the Champions League and shunted into the second tier of European football — relegated, to all intents and purposes — Benítez knows full well that failure is the only word that can apply to their plight.”

Going straight for Benitez’s jugular in the angriest article of the day is the Daily Mail’s Matt Lawton. “How Rafa Benitez holds his head up high after this, heaven only knows. It will not be easy. Not when his side failed so miserably to secure a much-needed victory here in Lyon. Not when they could not defend a lead Ryan Babel so spectacularly secured with only seven minutes remaining. Not when they now look certain to fail in their pursuit of a place in the second round of the Champions League.”

Following just behind is Martin Samuel. “Benitez has had five years of ceaseless transfer dealing to assemble a squad capable of rolling with the punches at home and in Europe, and is too often exposed. Yes, Lyon appeared fragile and had Steven Gerrard been available and Fernando Torres fully fit the scoreline may have been different, but Benitez should have more to call upon than two stellar talents, one inherited, by now.”

According to Glenn Moore, “what was so nearly a victory achieved through tactical acumen and discipline, tremendous hard work and a moment of inspiration was denied Liverpool by an age-old emotion: fear.” By contrast, Ian Herbert argues that Liverpool’s failure was more tactically based. “When a £24m Brazilian striker, Lissandro, is up against your fourth choice central defender (Sotiris Kyrgiakos) and a half fit one (Daniel Agger) the percentages are always weighed against you, even if your name is Benitez and you are sitting in a European dugout.”

Andy Hunter tries to remove any fingers pointing at Fernando Torres. “Fernando Torres is carrying a sportsman’s hernia not a magic wand, and his pain will be all-consuming after a night when a Herculean effort counted for little in Liverpool’s attempt to avoid elimination from the Champions League. For 87 minutes he dragged defenders across Stade Gerland, his longest appearance for a month underlining the risk Rafael Benítez was prepared to take in pursuit of a win. Within three minutes of Torres’ departure, however, hope had gone. His manager’s luck went with it.”

More praise is showered on El Nino from Rory Smith. “He may only have been half-fit, he may not have packed the punch which terrorises all opponents when he is at his peak but, in Fernando Torres, Liverpool at least possessed a glimmer of hope… Torrres, the man from Madrid imbued with the spirit of Merseyside, is prepared to do all he can for fans to whom he feels great devotion and for a manager to whom he has, time and again, expressed undying loyalty.”

Ownership of Arsenal is on the brink of a changeover as Ben Smith reports “Stan Kroenke has moved to the brink of launching an obligatory takeover of Arsenal after increasing his stake in the club to 29.9 per cent.” That said, looks to deflate the immediate situation by arguing “it is thought unlikely that Kroenke will launch a full takeover, not least because of the prohibitive cost to him of about £460 million.”

So if Kroenke doesn’t have any plans to takeover Arsenal tomorrow, what is the thinking behind his current share purchases? e think that he has assured the club that he doesn’t want to buy it. What he seems to be doing is trying to make sure that Usmanov cannot buy the club by purchasing as many spare shares as possible.”

Fight. Fight. Fight.

The gloves are off to at the Guardian where Marina Hyde calls out the Daily Mail for their poppy campaign. “With a tedious inevitability, the Daily Mail’s campaign to divide the whole of Britain into people who wear poppies and people who are subhuman scumbags has reached the Premier League… Why must the build-up to Remembrance Day be characterised by these incredibly cheapening, confected rows? What does that sort of focus say? Thank you for fighting for our freedom to ring talk-radio programmes and explain why this is ‘typical Man United?'” For their part, the Daily Mail’s Charles Sale today toots “two more Premier League clubs bowed to Poppy pressure yesterday… That leaves only three in the Premier League — Manchester United, Liverpool and Bolton who will play at the weekend without a poppy on their shirts in stubborn defiance of public opinion.”

It’s another sad day for Newcastle fans who yesterday learned that there team will now play at the sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park Stadium until the end of the season. Louise Taylor notes “the club hope they could then exploit further marketing and merchandising opportunities. The money generated would be re-invested in the team although the fans, somewhat predictably, have reacted with incredulity.” While Colin Young mocks “Newcastle’s famous old ground now resembles an email address, with Ashley’s own company on the title.”

Former footballer and now Independent columnist, Andy Cole, barks against all those writing off Rio Ferdinand. “The best footballers will always manage to find a way out of a slump, and Rio Ferdinand, without doubt a world-class player, will do just that.”

This weekend sees the FA Cup first round, but Brian Moore details how unresolved broadcasting rights issues could undermine this season’s competition. “Setanta’s collapse has left the Football Association with a headache that still has not been resolved concerning the rights to show FA Cup games from the third round onwards.”

Owen Gibson and Jamie Jackson continue their reports from South Africa this Thursday, today focusing on the travails of the home nations to produce on the pitch. “Resting on their laurels, the chaotic South African Football Association which, judging by descriptions from former players and the press makes the English FA look like a slick, well-oiled decision- making machine in comparison, failed to invest in developing new talent.”

Watch this space.

The Guardian report on the latest moves in France to controversially remove tax provisions which benefits richest sportsmen. “Advocates of the rule say it contributed to attracting the likes of Jonny Wilkinson to Toulon and Yoann Gourcuff from Milan to Bordeaux. Jean-Michel Aulas, chairman of Olympique Lyon, said the club would ‘have to part with one or two good players’ if the tax break is scrapped.”

In the transfer news, the Independent reveal that “the agent of Andrea Dossena has denied reports he is in talks with Napoli to negotiate the transfer of the Liverpool defender to the Serie A outfit in January.” The Independent continue to deny rumours by reporting “Osasuna full-back Cesar Azpilicueta insists he has no plans to leave the club despite reported interest in his services from Manchester City.”

Alan Nixon takes a backhanded swipe at Antonio Valencia farting “Sir Alex Ferguson is ready to swoop for Argentine star Angel Di Maria – and finally fill the gap left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure,” while John Cross invents the rumour that “Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce is trying to set up a cut-price £4m deal for Nacional Madeira midfielder Ruben Micael.”