When my friend said in the immediate minutes after the loss to Man U that Rafa "has to go," at least I could take the comment in the context of the massive steins of lager and the occasional Jameson shot that had preoccupied his previous two hours. But Scott Murray proposes just such a thing from what I must presume is the more clear-headed perspective of a professional scribe in pursuit of "the truth."
Meanwhile, Chris Bascombe at the Liverpool Echo offers a more nuanced and less knee-jerk reaction to the Old Trafford travesty. (After watching a good chunk of 100 Players Who Shook The Kop, I will attempt to link to Bascombe at every opportunity. His relaxed pose on his living room couch, clad in most-comfortable, well-worn sweatshirt expressing, to me at least, he's a good egg - or just a slob. Either way, someone I can identify with.)
Anyway, to get back to Murray for a second, I can't help but think the crush of defeat against Man U is clouding people's judgment a little bit. Murray writes near his opening:
"What a terrible shambles the Rafalution is in danger of turning into. Is it knee-jerk to ask serious questions of Rafael Benitez, European Cup-winning Rafael Benitez, just because Liverpool performed so dismally at Old Trafford? So cluelessly at Bolton? So pathetically at Everton? And - forget the hard-luck stories, please - so helplessly out of their depth at Chelsea?"
Yes, Scott, it is, as your observations of the Chelsea match come from the perspective of someone who either didn't watch the match or didn't care to see the thing for what it was so as not to disrupt the pre-written storyline. Drogba wonder goal. Kuyt hard-luck, crossbar-hitting shot and Gerrard blast directly at Cech pretty much sums it up that day at Stamford Bridge. Hopelessly out of their depth? No. Murray goes on to say Eidur Gudjohnsen's narrow miss in extra time of the Champions League semi-final could have rewritten history. Forget the hard-luck stories, please, Mr. Murray.
Annointed the next Champions of England after the Community Shield, the press and public opinion is rowing back now that Liverpool appears dismal. Thinking about it, I keep coming back to a great deal being read in to Steven Gerrard's body language. It's as if the naysayers hope more disaster is to come at Liverpool. What a Gerrard/Benitez public feud would do for the headline writers, no?
The rotation policy has become a massive ox on Benitez's back, when last year, of course, it was never mentioned while Liverpool accumulated 82 points. It played no factor, of course, when the likes of Igor Biscan and Djimi Traore received European Cup winner's medals in Istanbul. Now, though, it is the bane of Liverpool Football Club as simply writing down the same 11 names every Saturday would surely return the Reds to the top of the table and restore glory to the most accomplished English football team in history. That seems to be the popular opinion. Should Rafa try it? It would, at least, give contrarians several weeks to devise the new "Liverpool in crisis!!!" storyline.
To be sure, Benitez has troubles. He has a Spaniard in midfield who can pass like a genius but isn't perfect. He has a marauding Malian occupying a similar spot who can't pass or link play to the strikers but can tackle and win possession like a sonuvabitch. But, then, over there on the side he has the finest box-to-box midfielder in England who enjoys something a step below the pedestal of Jesus Christ among the fan base.
What to do? I have no answers, unfortunately. Go with Gerrard/Sissoko? Gerrard/Alonso? Why limit either Alonso's or Sissoko's significant possible contributions to a reserve role?
Also, the strikers are in flux. Bellamy/Kuyt/Crouch – take your pick. I've felt thus far Kuyt and Bellamy have looked the most dangerous when given the chance. I'm also watching matches on TV from thousands upon thousands of miles away.
There's more to figure out. Hyypia's age. Gonzalez's inexperience. Garcia's continuously mystifying presence in the starting lineup over Pennant or one of the strikers. Reina's apparent descent into mental retardation.
This all needs to be settled, but it's a conversation left for the barstool occupiers – at least for this year. Pushing Rafa Benitez out the door, as Mr. Murray appears to be suggesting should enter the debate, is hardly the solution to the most embarassing defeat since early last season, when Chelsea won 4-1 at Anfield in September and before Liverpool gathered 82 points by campaign's end, starting all these overblown expectations gathering ferocious momentum.
Benitez has more chances to get it done, but what Sunday showed is that the cat no longer has a full complement of lives among the faithful.