Could things get any grimmer for Liverpool and Rafa Benitéz? Marooned in mid-table in the Premier League, bounced out of the Carling Cup by a set of teenage Arsenal reserves, flung out of the Champions League at the group stages and now, the piece de resistance!
Reading, without a full-time manager, languishing towards the foot of the Championship, last night knocked the reds out of the F.A. Cup - at Anfield. And this wasn’t a battling cup upset, ground out in the teeth of wave after wave of Liverpool attacks!
The Royals outplayed their Premier League opponents in the replay, as they did in the first game at the Madejski Stadium. Benitéz’ side proved fortunate that afternoon, scraping a draw despite a lethargic performance.
Lethargy doesn’t begin to describe the dross served up at Anfield. Liverpool’s one-nil half-time lead was a travesty and an embarrassment. There is actually an argument that supporters should welcome this exposition of just how dismal their team has become. The manager does not deserve to get off the hook by scraping unconvincing results. It is better if the crisis at Liverpool comes to a head.
Rafa Benitéz might complain about the resources which he has available. But he is responsible for the spirit and the attitude of the team he puts out. Clubs with next to no money can field sides which at least show determination, ingenuity, fighting spirit and urgency.
Not one Liverpool player will emerge from last night’s debacle with credit.
Torres and Gerrard were withdrawn before the second half began. Certainly Liverpool look toothless without them. But the first period, nevertheless, witnessed a lack of imagination, even with a couple of semi-competent players involved.
As for the rest!
Even Jamie Carragher, who at least showed some urgency during extra time, was woeful during the ninety minutes. If one moment epitomised the difference between the two sides, it was Jobi McAnuff dancing between Carragher and Agger, each of whom had limply extended a leg in token resistance. The Reading winger squirted his opportunity wide of the upright, but notice had been served.
Liverpool ignored it.
Who else can we single out for particular criticism?
The lumpen full-back Emiliano Insua perhaps? He has youth on his side, but it shouldn’t be confused with vitality. Tied in knots for 210 minutes by lively Reading front-men, the defender is like Steve Harkness with a suntan.
Lucas Leiva? The only Brazilian footballer ever to deserve the epithet “plodding”. The central midfielder is clearly colour blind. He rarely passes the football to a player wearing red.
Then there’s the new signing, ‘Il Principino’, Alberto Aquilani. Last night he sauntered around, looking for all the world like a Dad who had once been able to play a bit, disorientated by the pace of a kick about with his son’s mates! The best comparison is Jan Molby, but Jan Molby now, not during his playing days.
What a mess! An awful team, no money to improve things. Greedy, selfish, dishonest owners. And (let’s finally face it Liverpool fans) a negative manager whose mentality is manifestly unsuited to English football.