Almost an indescribable stream of events at Craven Cottage today for a yo-yoing Liverpool side. After triumphantly beating Manchester United in superb style last weekend Liverpool suffered a 3-1 defeat to a rampant Fulham who were determined to punish at maximum for Liverpool's mistakes.
The starting eleven under the circumstances was a good team, the only exception being Kygriakos, Voronin and possibly Degen depending on how you look at him. Despite this, the fact is, that 11 were more than capable of coming away from Craven Cottage with 3 points. At minimum a draw, that team had too much talent/experience in to fall to a defeat.
The starting eleven in the first half were clearly the better side, with bags of possession and numerous shots, it should have only have been a matter of time before we netted. 24 minutes and in the midst of a Liverpool dominated half Zamora is allowed to send his chance goal bound and against the run of things Liverpool are left trailing in the first half.
42 minutes and Torres continues to do his job as a prolific goalscorer after smashing home an excellent volley. So we go into half time level, not exactly the preferred scoreline to go in on but we know this can now be turned to our advantage.
So the second half begins, no changes and Liverpool again start well, keeping possession and play but as we all know, having the possession is not even half the battle as Liverpool throw away chance after chance it appears the winner cannot be scored.
63 minutes and with the scoreline still reading 1-1 Benitez makes the change, Torres off, Babel on. Now look at this which ever way you like but Fernando Torres is key to our season, if we risk him in a game against Fulham (which may i point out should be winnable without him on the field) and he is injured, out for a month or even more then where is the threat? In my eye's although maybe i would have preferred Torres to have came on for twenty minutes as opposed to playing 60, the managers decision was right. In long run terms, he was correct.
Babel as the replacement now makes up an 11 which i shall again highlight should quite happily be able to go out there and give Fulham a run for their money, there were still goalscorers on the pitch i.e. Benayoun, Kuyt, Babel etc who could have turned the result around.
73 minutes and Fulham score again. The point made about Kyrgiakos in defence was made clear as himself and Insua are involved in a shoddy piece of defending and the ball is again in the net. The situation was actually put in Fulham's favour by a desperate attempt of Dirk Kuyt to keep a ball in which could have quite harmlessly gone out for a throw in, after losing possession but keeping the ball in play, Fulham capitalized.
77 minutes and as much as i am with Rafa and as much as i will stick by him, this was the only decision/matter to do with him today that can realistically be criticised. Yossi Benayoun replaced with Nathan Eccleston, was this an example of the game is lost, let's just try to shake things up a bit and try for a last gasp equalizer with the fresh legs and want of debutant Eccleston? Was it because Rafa truly felt the difference Eccleston would make would change the game? Did Rafa feel Yossi wasn't up to scratch? All i know is that bad decision or not, this game should have been won by half time.
So with a now desperate Liverpool things go from bad to worse; two players sent off within the space of 3 minutes and both red cards were controversial to say the least. Philipp Degen is first to go after a tackle which looked a lot worse than it actually was, after making an attempt for the ball, the body of the defender takes out the Fulham player and Degen is shown a straight red.
Firstly, the challenge was never a straight red card and it was clear as daylight that there was no malicious intent.
Jamie Carragher is the next person to succumb to the Referee's red card after a challenge on Zamora. The number 23 from the first angle appears to get caught in a tangle with the striker but the referee claims he had brought the man down. After Zamora himself said that Jamie had in fact got the ball it appears Liverpool were again without lady luck.
84 minutes, Benitez removes Kuyt and gives Ayala a run out also in an attempt to steady the defence. This didn't however go as planned after Clint Dempsey nets a third for the cottager's. With Kyrgiakos already looking unsteady in the first half without the reassurance of Carragher and with Degen also off the pitch, the Greek was left sleeping and Fulham were almost open to stroll around the defence.
So with another fixture that will fill the Rafa Band Wagon with more pathetic reasoning as to why he should go is this really, even with his slightly questionable changes today his burden to bear?
Let's look back at the line ups for two of the other fixtures we have lost so far this season...
For this game we fielded a super strong team;
Reina, Insua, Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Lucas, Mascherano, Kuyt, Benayoun, Gerrard, Torres.
And again another strong line up;
Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua, Kuyt, Mascherano, Lucas, Babel, Gerrard, Torres.
So ask yourself... If a fully fit Liverpool go out against the likes of Aston Villa and Spurs and come away with a loss, who do you blame? Benitez? No of course not, why would you? Because he had all his options and the best team available was played. You hold your hands up and face facts that the team was not good enough.
Now stop for just one second and have it in your head that Liverpool in fact went out and played well in these fixtures, so well that we bagged 6 points. The Fulham result today would have appeared a lot less affecting than it actually is.
Yes, Rafa made some bad decisions and yes he doesn't always get it right but the real explanation to this is that the team, the players have simply not started well enough, barely anyone in the squad had started positively up until the United game when everybody showed their true colours. The players are simply not up to scratch. If they were they would have secured the wins when the team was at it's best.
Rafa is under immense pressure at the moment and for a man who is dealing with injuries, viruses, possibly the worst boardroom in football and a world of media determined to push him out the door i can quite easily step back and calm down after a result like this and remain by his side.
What would have happened to United if when in the Ferguson early days he was forced out like the fans "thought" would be best... Where would they be? You must stick by a manager in order to create success, people don't seem to realise how hard it is to win the Premier League, and if you seriously think Mourinho or whoever else may be in your fantasies will walk in and get it us, you are wrong.
There is no manager out there at this moment in time that under the same circumstances as Rafa could do any better than what he has already done and is currently doing.
If you picked Benitez up and dropped him at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge or the Bernabeu, there is no doubt in my mind that he would rake in the success. This is a manager in one of the most toughest jobs in football, managing a club packed with history and attempting to take them back to the glory days when title's came in like buses. Well which ever way you look at it these things take time.
Stick with him and he WILL succeed.