Liverpool FC's title dreams
are hanging by a thread
Comment by Ian Rush - Liverpool Echo
Liverpool’s title hopes may not be over
but they are undoubtedly hanging by a thread.
Sunday’s home draw with Manchester City is a major setback
and it is also a massive disappointment because it means
Manchester United’s lead at the top of the table has
extended to seven points.
That is a big gap at this stage of the season and even
though it is not an insurmountable one you would have to say
that the odds are now stacked massively in United’s favour.
I still believe that United will drop points between now and
the end of the campaign but the question is will Liverpool
be able to capitalise even if they do?
The way they played against City suggests that would be a
really tall order because Liverpool were a long way from
At this time of year you really need to be hitting top form
if you are going to maintain your challenge and in recent
weeks that just hasn’t been the case for Rafa Benitez’s
The biggest disappointment of all is that they have now
drawn six games at home and that is far too many.
Twelve points have been dropped at Anfield and if your home
form is not up to scratch then it is going to be incredibly
difficult to win the league even if your record against your
title rivals is as good as Liverpool’s is.
Anfield has always been Liverpool’s great strength, a place
where wins are not just sought they are expected.
But far too many teams have visited this season and have
departed with a point without having been subjected to the
kind of stringent examination you would normally expect.
City were the latest team to exploit this weakness and they
were worthy of the point they ultimately earned.
United now have a comfort zone which means they can even
afford to drop a few points and it still wouldn’t be enough
to stop them from winning the league.
But things could still turn around. It may be highly
unlikely but everyone at Liverpool needs to keep believing
and keep pushing hard because if United did stutter it would
not be the first time that a team has faltered with the
finishing line in sight.
Until and unless it becomes mathematically impossible then
Liverpool must keep on pushing.
instead of caution
Comment by David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
Craig Bellamy never served many useful
purposes during his solitary season in red – one goal in the
Nou Camp apart.
But yesterday's deflected strike in Sky Blue at least gave
Rafael Benitez a true sense of where his season's priorities
The forlorn bid to catch hold of Manchester United's
shirt-tails can now be conceded for another season.
The Champions League has become the be all and end all of
That's not knee jerk fatalism at another home draw – just a
realistic assessment of the Reds' current standing in the
grand scheme of things.
And that's also not a cause for a wailing and gnashing of
teeth and Rafa must go debates..
Liverpool aren't good enough to match Manchester's top side
just yet. Heck, they were only just good enough to match
that city's mediocre team yesterday.
But they're still better off than they were at this stage
They don't boast the resource or the depth to go head to
head with United over a full season, but they've progressed
– and they're still making a better go of it than Arsenal
and Chelsea have managed.
Whether they are better to watch, however, is a moot point.
To get to mid-February with only one Premier League defeat
is a considerable achievement.
But when that admirable ability to avoid defeat is achieved
at the expense of six home draws – the balance must surely
be flawed somewhere along the way.
If Liverpool had been just a little more gung ho, a touch
more cavalier in those six drawn games, they might have
lost, for argument's sake, three of them.
But equally, they might have won three as well – and that
would put them three points better off and within realistic
striking distance of the current champions.
The Reds’ inability to win matches has cost them this
season's title push.
The Reds boss tried to issue what passed for a rallying cry
But there were 40,000 or so not singing from the same hymn
In fact they weren't singing at all.
Anfield was flat yesterday from first whistle until Dirk
Kuyt's leveller 13 minutes from time.
There was a resigned acceptance around a stadium which can
usually be guaranteed to back even the most hopeless of
It was as if the Kop choir had grimly accepted that the
title was over and was saving its vocal chords for the
European nights which lie ahead.
Anfield was quiet and uninspired – given the mediocre fare
they witnessed that was hardly surprising.
Liverpool, quite simply, weren't ambitious enough, forceful
enough or penetrative enough.
With Steven Gerrard joining Xabi Alonso on the sidelines, a
midfield fulcrum of Mascherano and Lucas was always likely
to struggle for creativity.
They passed the ball simply and effectively – at least until
Lucas' first misplaced pass of the afternoon six minutes
from time drew predictable howls of derision for Anfield's
most regular scapegoat – but what was needed was something a
Yossi Benayoun provided the sole source of inspiration, his
cross from the left flank finally chiselling out an opening
13 minutes from the end.
But the inventive Israeli apart, Liverpool leaned far too
heavily on Fernando Torres.
And as a grim afternoon wore on, the Spanish conquistador
looked more and more disgruntled.
He was far from alone.
The betting booth which sits outside the Directors' Lounge
at Anfield was a lonely place at 4.45pm.
There's usually a small queue of grateful punters waiting to
collect, but yesterday there was no-one. That suggests that
perhaps Reds fans are more optimistic than we think, because
another home draw, statistically speaking, was always on the
But it looked like no-one took that punt, no-one gambled.
That's what Liverpool must do now if the embers of their
title fires are to be fanned. But realistically, that blaze
is already out.
Rafa Benitez has proved a master of the successful European
campaign in three of his four Anfield seasons.
The Champions League is now the Real deal for the Reds.
A superfluous illustration
of Liverpool’s weaknesses
By Max Munton - This is Anfield
At the back end of 2008, only a month and
a half ago, we were sat proudly at the top of the Premier
League and a full ten points ahead of Manchester United.
Fast forward to today and we wake up this Monday morning
seven points behind United; our title dreams all but over.
Perhaps we had false hopes. Building up such a fantastic
lead in the first half of the season, winning games we
shouldn’t have, looking like a Championship winning team
again. But we haven’t truly played out of our skins all
season. And now we’re not winning those games that we
shouldn’t be allowed to. Now we’re not looking like a team
worthy of competing for the title. Yesterday’s 1-1 draw at
home to Manchester City showed we have weakness in
Yes, we missed Steven Gerrard as we finally woke up after
going behind to former Red Craig Bellamy, just minutes into
the second half. But that’s no excuse if you want to be
Champions. As Kevin McCarra writes in this morning’s
Had the injured Steven Gerrard been on hand, a recovery that
led to Dirk Kuyt’s equaliser would probably have proceeded
to victory. Few will resist making the comparison with
United, who scarcely seem conscious of the absence of
Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney.
United continue to triumph every time they run out onto the
pitch. They have a team spirit that’s making them look
pretty untouchable at the moment. We don’t. Yesterday’s
performance was poor, weak, unorganised and more many parts
of the match Man City were controlling play like they were
the home team.
But what do we expect? Why was this season ever going to be
any different than the usual disappointment?
Sam Wallace writes in this morning’s Independent that
Liverpool have found themselves in a position more familiar
with the likes of Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea over the
years – playing second fiddle in a title race with United.
All the teams who have found themselves succumbing to
Ferguson’s sides in title races over the last 16 years have
crumbled in their own distinctive way. However, there was
something familiar about the dread at Anfield yesterday,
something similar has, at different times, gripped the likes
of Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea over the years.
A fateful anxiousness that meant when Craig Bellamy scored
Manchester City’s goal on 49 minutes, it was not entirely
There was an atmosphere of we know what’s going to happen
around Anfield today. Reports that Benitez had just rejected
another contract offer from the club were circulating, and
nerves swept the stadium. Paul Joyce in this morning’s Daily
The increasingly tiresome saga over his future appears to
have even left the Kop disenchanted, with Benitez’s name
hardly chanted, if at all, during a tense and ultimately
So what now?
There’s still 12 games to go and United haven’t won the
title just yet. It was only last week that Benitez himself
still claimed Aston Villa were in with a shout. So surely
it’s possible? And United’s bubble has to burst at some
point, right? If omens are anything to go by, then the fact
that Benitez found himself 8 points behind Real Madrid with
12 games to go when he won La Liga in Spain with Valencia
must stand us in good stead.
The Spaniard himself yesterday though admitted things are
going to be tough now. Victory at Old Trafford on March 14th
is a necessity. I think it’s only inevitable that the club’s
off the field problems will continue for the remainder of
the season – after all, Rafa may never sign that new
contract even though he should be kept at all costs.
But on the pitch there are problems too. Lack of firepower,
perhaps desire until the clock starts ticking faster and
faster towards 90 minutes. Sam Wallace of The Independent
Nineteen years after Liverpool’s last league championship
the gap to Manchester United in first place is seven points
and, with a title that seems to be heading inexorably in one
direction, it looks like it might yet get even bigger.
Yesterday, an undefeated home record in the league that
stretched back to December 2007 was in danger until Dirk
Kuyt’s equaliser with 12 minutes remaining, but even at
Anfield it is becoming impossible not to acknowledge a more
basic truth about the state of this team.
Maybe we were never good enough to challenge this season all
along. Maybe United winning the league for the 18th time is
set, as the rest of the Premier League fail to compete.
Kevin McCarra of The Guardian concludes:
It is the misfortune of Rafael Benítez’s team, seven points
adrift of the leaders, to be blamed for being more prominent
so far than the rest of the also-rans. This game was a
superfluous illustration of Liverpool’s weaknesses.
Carragher not giving up
Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is
refusing to concede defeat in the race for the Premier
The Reds saw their championship dreams suffer another dent
on Sunday after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to
The draw along with Manchester United's win over Blackburn
leaves Liverpool seven points behind Sir Alex Ferguson's
side with United now firm favourites to claim a third title
in a row.
Carragher admitted the draw to City was a blow to
Liverpool's chances, but he is not ready to throw in the
"Yeah it is a big blow," Carragher told Sky Sports News. "We
were five points behind before the weekend which was
something we try to cut over the weekend, but with Man Utd
winning and us drawing it has gone the other way.
"We would have prefered to have gone three or four points
behind and it is going to make it more difficult for
ourselves, but there is still a long way to go."
Dirk Kuyt's late goal earned Liverpool a point against City
to cancel out Craig Bellamy's opener and Carragher concedes
Rafa Benitez's men were not at their best against City.
He said: "You have got to give credit to Man City but we
probably never created as much as we have liked.
"But to come back into it from 1-0 down we are pleased with
that, we have done it a few times coming back this season
but couldn't quite do it today."
Carragher admits Liverpool are going to have go on a winning
run to have any chance of catching United and believes they
need to beat the reigning champions at Old Trafford next
month to get their title bid back on track.
"I think we are going to have to go on a great run to catch
Man Utd but I think we are capable of that," he said.
"We have still got to go there and it looks like we are
going to have to win there, which is going to be difficult
as they are a great side Man Utd, but that is something we
are going to have to do I think."
Title will be difficult now
By Robin Hackett - Setanta Sports
Rafa Benitez has admitted it will now be
difficult for Liverpool to win the title after dropping two
points at home to Manchester City - but revealed Steven
Gerrard is close to a return.
Liverpool had much the better of the first half at Anfield
on Sunday but failed to take advantage, and former player
Craig Bellamy made them pay with a deflected effort shortly
Dirk Kuyt popped up to score an equaliser with 12 minutes to
play, but The Reds were unable to find a winner.
The result leaves Liverpool seven points behind reigning
champions Manchester United and, while Benitez was bullish
about his team’s chances of winning the title ahead of the
game, he now admits they face an uphill struggle.
"Clearly it's more difficult now," he said.
"We have to win against Middlesbrough and Sunderland and
then we have to start thinking about winning at Old
"I have confidence we can beat Middlesbrough and Sunderland
and then it might be a different situation.
"It's not easy because United can win games even without
playing well, but there are still 12 games. You cannot say
everything is finished.
"Clearly, if we want to reduce the gap, we have to win our
next games and then beat United."
He added: "It was a bad result because we could have done
better with the chances we had in the first half.
"We controlled the game but you have to score first. We
conceded a deflected goal and that changed the game because
they have pace and ability - things were more open so they
were dangerous on the counter attack.
"After we scored the goal, we had chances and could have won
Liverpool lacked creativity in the midfield, but Benitez
revealed they could be boosted by the return of Steven
Gerrard for the game against Real Madrid on Wednesday.
"We will see after training tomorrow and then we'll decide
with him and the doctor,” he said.
“He's close. The decision is not easy, but he's improving."
Hughes happy with City efforts
Manchester City manager Mark Hughes was
pleased with his side's showing at Anfield after City
battled to a 1-1 draw against Liverpool.
City may not have won in the Premier League since August but
they looked impressive on Sunday afternoon and perhaps
should have won the game.
Former Liverpool player Craig Bellamy scored against his old
club and City looked to have won until Dirk Kuyt scored with
10 minutes to go to rescue a point for Liverpool.
But regardless of Liverpool's equaliser, Hughes was quick to
praise his side.
He said: "I thought we were excellent today. There was drive
and purpose in our game.
"We are disappointed that we did not get all three points
but to come to Anfield and play against a team going for the
Premier League title and get a point was great.
"We put in an excellent performance. We were strong and
resolute when we had to be and overall I am very pleased."
The result means Liverpool are now seven points behind table
toppers Manchester United and former Old Trafford favourite
Hughes now believes it is United's title to lose rather than
Liverpool's to win.
He added: "Liverpool can certainly comeback but we are now
looking at Manchester Unites slipping up and they don't do
that very often."
to keep Pool on track
By Robin Hackett - Setanta Sports
Dirk Kuyt’s equaliser gave Liverpool a
point but failed to keep their title bid on track as a 1-1
draw with Manchester City at Anfield left The Reds seven
points behind the leaders.
After Liverpool dominated the first half, Craig Bellamy
turned the game on its head against his former side as his
deflected effort put City ahead just after half time.
But while Kuyt popped up in the 78th minute to salvage a
draw for his side, they were unable to find a winner.
Arsene Wenger had caused a stir in midweek when he labelled
Manchester United 'untouchable', yet their subsequent
victories over Fulham and Blackburn did little to dispel the
Ahead of the City game, Rafa Benitez was looking to make up
an eight-point gap on the reigning champions, but he was
refusing to concede defeat.
“United may be winning more games than most at the moment,
but to say you cannot beat them is not right,” he said.
“We are not intimidated by the challenge here.”
There was just cause, too. A win at home to City – a side
that had not won away since August – would reduce the gap to
five points and, with Benitez bullish about the trip to Old
Trafford next month, there would be the opportunity to move
within two points of the leaders.
Mark Hughes had set out with the intention of frustrating
Liverpool – that much was clear from his selection of Pablo
Zabaleta, Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany in the midfield.
Yet, without Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, Liverpool were
forced to go with a central midfield duo of Javier Macherano
and Lucas Leiva.
The result, as you would expect, was a first half with
little free-flowing football in the centre of the park.
But it was a half with more than its share of chances.
Liverpool dominated proceedings almost from start to finish,
and at times looked to have done enough to break the
At the halfway point, City were forced to defend a manic
goalmouth scramble. As the half drew to a close, Fernando
Torres came to life and supplied both Albert Riera and Yossi
Benayoun, but neither was able to find the target.
For all Liverpool’s chances, though, City still looked
dangerous on the break and could easily have taken the lead
on 30 minutes. Stephen Ireland played a superb long-range
pass to Robinho and, after some fine play from the
Brazilian, Ireland received the ball back in the area before
seeing his tame effort denied by Pepe Reina.
But it was Liverpool’s half, and there were enough
encouraging signs for Benitez to believe a goal would arrive
in the second 45 minutes. Hughes, it seemed, had a major
task on his hands.
That task was made substantially easier in the 49th minute,
when Bellamy turned the game on its head.
Vincent Kompany did well to get the ball back to Bellamy,
and the Wales strike managed to get a shot away in the area
that, via a significant deflection from Alvaro Arbeloa,
eluded Reina and found the far corner.
With Mascherano and Lucas in the midfield, Liverpool’s
struggle for creativity was becoming a more substantial
problem. City, meanwhile, were growing in confidence and
looked dangerous on the break.
It could easily have been 2-0 when Micah Richards broke free
in the area on 66 minutes – Ireland managed to steer the
defender’s wayward shot into the net, but he was some
distance offside and it was ruled out.
Yet, with 12 minutes to play, Liverpool got their equaliser.
Yossi Benayoun put a cross in from the left and, as Torres
failed to make clear contact, Dirk Kuyt pounced to drill the
ball in for 1-1.
But while Liverpool tried to force a winner – Kuyt and
Benayoun both forced fine saves from Shay Given – City
continued to push for a goal on the counter.
It made for a frantic final ten minutes, but neither side
was able to make the breakthrough and the game finished 1-1.
It was a solid result for City and something for Mark Hughes
to build on, but whether Rafa Benitez still believes United
can be caught remains to be seen.