Just when Liverpool fans thought things couldn’t get any worse the side with the worst away record in the Championship arrived at Anfield in the fifth round of the FA Cup. With Liverpool sitting fifth in the Premier League, three points behind their city rivals Everton, and with a particularly tough draw in the Champions League against Inter, currently eleven points clear in Serie A, having not lost a game, this game had the increased significance of representing Liverpool’s best chance of winning something this season.
Although Rafa Benitez continued with his policy of squad rotation and left out Gerrard, Torres and Reina, arguably their three best players, he still selected a side that should have been easily good enough to see off the Barnsley challenge.
As we all know, an injury time strike by Barnsley captain Brian Howard saw Liverpool knocked out of the cup, and their season hanging on by the narrowest of threads. It is true that on another day, against a less inspired goalkeeper, Liverpool would have won comfortably, but they didn’t.
So now, a defeat this week against Inter would effectively finish the season for the great Anfield club, with only a fight for fourth place in the league to play for. This is so disappointing for the club and their fans, who together with many pundits thought this just might be the season that they made a serious challenge to the big three of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
After the game yesterday a small group of fans stayed behind to protest against Tom Hicks and George Giillett the American owners of the club, chanting and singing the slightly politically incorrect phrase, “Yanks out.”
As an outsider looking on, I can totally understand the frustration of the Liverpool fans, but I can’t quite understand where their anger is being directed.
In the summer, Benitez demanded money from the owners. They allowed him to spend £46 million. The owners and fans had a right to expect that success would be achieved by a squad who were Champions League finalists and were improved by that sort of expenditure.
What has followed has been comparatively poor League form, defeat at the hands of Chelsea in the Carling cup, initially poor results in Europe and humiliation by Barnsley in the FA Cup.
It seems to me that the Liverpool fans anger is directed almost entirely towards the owners of the club. Benitez and the players seem to retain their full support. Surely the players who failed yesterday have let the club and the fans down? Surely the manager who has spent so much money, accumulated a star studded world class squad, but fails to achieve results is letting down the club and the fans?
It is Benitez who regularly left out Torres earlier in the season. It is Benitez who persists in playing Harry Kewell, who seems to me to be a shadow of his former self, it is Benitez who leaves out Alonso and Babel and it is Benitez who picks Dirk Kuyt. It is also Benitez who leaves Gerrard out of ‘less important’ games, and sometimes substitutes him in the bigger ones.
It is the players who lost yesterday, not the owners. If a side containing Finnan, Hypia, Carragher, Riise, Benayoun, Alonso, Kuyt and Crouch is not capable of beating Barnsley at Anfield, then there is something seriously wrong with the players and/or the manager.
A win against Milan this week is absolutely essential for Liverpool, but looking at the current situation they might just need a miracle to get one.
Can any Liverpool fans explain why it is the owners and not the manager and the players that are the target of all the anger and frustration?
Graham writes at www.viewsofafan.org