“This was a horror show, a hammer blow to their European ambitions and a brutal reminder of how poor Liverpool are without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres” – Henry Winter

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “Everything that can go wrong is going wrong at the moment. I think we have to win our last three [Champions League] games now… We were 1-0 up and had two or three chances which could have changed everything, but we just had too many problems. I’m really disappointed because we still had enough chances to win it, which could have made everything different.” – Rafa Benitez.

Runner-up: “This has been the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in all the time I’ve been in football… The time is right for change and that change has had to be made. Gareth [Southgate] has given Middlesbrough Football Club magnificent service as a skipper and, in very difficult circumstances, as manager. I appointed Gareth in a situation that was greatly unfavourable to him. He deserves another opportunity once he has had the chance to rest and refresh himself.” – Steve Gibson.


Today’s overview: Liverpool fans should wear their crash helmets this Wednesday before they venture into the backpages. Four straight defeats, injuries to their star players, possible Champions League elimination, the upcoming fixture with Manchester United. All the angles are covered.

As pointed out by Rory Smith, it escaped no-one that the Anfield crowd booed Benitez during Liverpool’s defeat to Lyon. “Liverpool were booed off by their own fans here, but of more concern were the jeers that greeted Benítez’s decision to replace goalscorer Yossi Benayoun with Andriy Voronin late on, a rare show of dissent among a fan base usually loyal to the Spaniard.” The impact of the Anfield crowd’s boos are dissected by Sam Wallace. “Benitez is well-aware that if he loses the fans then eventually he loses his job because his relationship with the American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett is too damaged to expect any unqualified support from them.”

Continuing the assessment of how Liverpool fans now view Rafa was Kevin Gardside. “Love for Benítez is not universal in Merseyside’s red zone. Trust in his methods is not absolute. Too many lacklustre displays have stripped his message of force. It is not that fans no longer believe, more that they do not know what to believe.”

Fearing “the start of the kind of nightmare that has been predicted for the majority of the time since Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr took ownership of the club almost three years ago,” Tony Barrett wonders how long Benitez can stay on at Anfield. “Benitez can point to the absence of Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson through injury and he can also use the departure of Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain and talisman, after 25 minutes as a further example of ill fortune, but he cannot escape the fact that 11 of the players he used last night were his signings.”

Swiftly adding to Liverpool’s woes is uddenly the crisis is real. The likelihood is now — and I know we have said this before and been mistaken — that they will fail to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League.” While showering Merseyside with more doom is Tim Rich, who laments how Liverpool’s “‘maybe players,’ those brought in for between £3-6m, are simply not good enough.”

Looking to inject some common sense into the analysis of Liverpool is Henry Winter. “Liverpool are running on empty, running out of players, energy and ideas. It is too soon to claim that Rafa Benítez is running out of time but this was a horror show, a hammer blow to their European ambitions and a brutal reminder of how poor Liverpool are without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. No Gerrard, no Torres, no leadership, no cutting edge, no chance.”

Andy Hunter comments on the latest injury setback for Liverpool talisman Steven Gerrard. “It was the kind of polite, respectful applause that is usually reserved for a passing hearse and, in terms of Liverpool’s Champions League campaign, the Anfield reaction to Steven Gerrard’s aborted comeback against Lyon proved entirely apt.”

The tabloids also go to town over Liverpool’s crisis, with John Edwards headlining his article “Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is done four! After the beach ball fiasco, Steven Gerrard gamble backfires as Reds equal their worst run for 22 years,” while Phil Thomas’ match report splashes with “Rafa disaster as Reds flop again.”

Also in the doldrums are Glasgow Rangers.

After being spanked at home by Unirea Urziceni, Ewan Murray spluttered “the most comprehensive thesaurus in the world would barely contain the words to describe this Rangers performance. The latest evidence that Scottish football may be in terminal decline rather than just suffering a rough spell arrived on another harrowing night in Glasgow.” Graham Spiers labelled the result “one of the most excruciating experiences of [Walter] Smith’s 40-plus years in football.”

Even Arsenal get in the neck today as Rob Kelly insists that the Gunners are not that good a team. “This Arsenal incarnation may boast some wonderful players, such as Andrei Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, but picking a composite team of the current side and the famous unbeaten line-up of five years ago, I can only find space for two of Wenger’s current crop. Wenger may believe this squad could be his most exciting, but it is still some way from bettering his very best.” While on the specifics of last night’s draw with AZ Alkmaar, Glenn Moore toots “Wenger knows they need to control matches, and close them out, better than this if they are if they intend to figure in May’s final in Madrid.”

The criticisms of English clubs extend to Chelsea as Martin Samuel demands an improvement in the form of Frank Lampard. “Ancelotti needs to get Lampard back on track quickly because, if he does, chances are it will be the first of a few and, when he and Drogba hit form together, Chelsea are unstoppable.”

Ahead of Manchester United’s match in CSKA Moscow, Paul Wilson talks of the challenges facing Michael Owen. “Capello simply wants to see Owen do on the pitch what he is currently only talking about in interviews… There is still plenty of time; what Owen needs to do between now and the end of the season is demonstrate he still has the gift of immaculate timing.”

Staying with the elite of European football, reports on his insightful meeting with Real Madrid’s general director, Jorge Valdano. Valdano: “There was a group of ‘grandisimos’ but there was too large a gap between them and those on the bench… Now, before being a team of 11, we are a staff with 23 players and all of them are equally useful for the coach. If Benzema does not play then Van Nistelrooy can play, if Cristiano Ronaldo can’t play, there’s Higuaín. If Kaká does not play, there’s Raúl. We have a deeper staff.”

Careful not to overstate his case, David Conn voices his concerns of Carson Yeung’s takeover at Birmingham. “Yeung’s astounding acquisition of Birmingham City has a contradiction at its heart. It has been played out with more fanfare and open information than arguably any of the Premier League takeovers so far, flooding the Hong Kong Stock Exchange with documents to wade through, yet still it can feel like a riddle wrapped in a mystery.”

The tabloids have a new game to play today – who will be the next boss of Middlesborough. Colin Young preaches that “former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan is among the leading contenders to take over at the Riverside,” while Simon Bird claims that “Gordon Strachan and Paul Jewell will be among the contenders to take over.”

In the transfers, the Daily Mail report how “Portsmouth manager Paul Hart is giving a trial to former Millwall and Plymouth reject Cherno Samba,” Martin Blackburn trumpets that “Emile Heskey could be offered an England World Cup lifeline in January – by Blackburn,” while the Mirror shout “Tottenham are poised to complete a £14million deal for Brazil star Sandro in the New Year.”

Lastly, the Mirror claim that “Birmingham boss Alex McLeish is ready to make Gareth Bale one of the first signings of new owner Carson Yeung’s era in a £3million deal,” and John Cross farts “Arsene Wenger is keeping tabs on Ajax defender Gregory van der Wiel.”