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Liverpool crash out of Champions League

November 24, 2009

David N'gog nicks the goal that gave Liverpool hope in Hungary

Liverpool’s awful start to the season got even worse this evening as they were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage for the first time in 7 years. A 1-0 win away at Debreceni was not enough to keep the Reds alive in the competition, as Italian giants Fiorentina overcame Lyon by the same scoreline sending them through to the next stage.

It was a typically cagey performance from Liverpool over a side whom Fiorentina and Lyon have put 13 goals past in 3 games, with Lyon finishing the group stage at home to the Hungarian champions on the 9th December. It was a performance that summed up the last few months for Rafael Benitez’ side, and one that was certainly not deserving of progression in the competition.

The only goal of the game came after only 4 minutes, when David N’gog poked the ball home inside the 6 yard box. Opportunities were few and far between after that, although Debreceni goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic made a couple of decent saves to deny Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard in the second half. The home side could even have got something out of the match at the end, as both Gergely Rudolf and Adamo Coulibaly had chances to snatch a late equalizer. Nevertheless, it was a proud effort from the group underdogs.

Liverpool now enter the newly named Europa League, for which they were dubbed favourites even before kickoff tonight, further underlining the difficulty of the task Liverpool faced. A chance maybe for Benitez and the boys to salvage some pride from what’s been a pretty woeful campaign so far.

So where have Liverpool gone wrong? I’ve highlighted a few key areas that need looking at if anything is to be rescued from the wreckage that is the 2009/2010 season.

1. Investment in the January transfer window.
Liverpool lack strength in depth, something that the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal don’t. With Fernando Torres out injured, David N’gog starts up front, and although the young Frenchman has netted a few times this season, he’s nowhere near the class of Torres and certainly hasn’t shown enough ability to suggest he could be a regular starter in any competition. The same has to be said for left-back Emiliano Insua who simply isn’t good enough to be playing at this level, at least not yet. He’s been exposed recently by nearly every player that he’s come up against, and hasn’t showed much promise going forward either. Money, as little as Liverpool have at the moment, needs to be spent extremely wisely in January to strengthen the squad.

2. Consistency in selection.
One of the areas that Liverpool perhaps do have reasonable depth is in the centre of defence. Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Sitirios Kyrgiakos, and even Daniel Sanchez Ayala have all been used in the heart of Liverpool’s back line recently, and they’ve failed to settle as a unit. Another 2 goals were conceded at the weekend to Manchester City, to add to the 18 they’d previously conceded in the League. Skrtel hasn’t had his best run of form of late, and Agger is only just recovering from a series of injuries. Kyrgiakos has looked unsteady since his £1.5m summer arrival from AEK Athens, and Carragher has been far from the kind of form he showed last season, and has received much criticism. It’s a tough one for Benitez who is clearly unsure as to what his best pairing is. I say stick with Carra and Agger for now, and get Skrtel training hard and improving his game, and should Agger pick up another knock then the Slovakian International can slot right back in.

3. More creativity in attack.
The loss of Xabi Alonso in the Summer to Real Madrid has received a lot of talk right up to this day. The simple fact is, losing Alonso means losing one of the best playmakers in Europe, and perhaps even the World. Alberto Aquilani was brought in for a big sum of money but spent the first 10 weeks of the season on the sidelines following ankle surgery. That meant that Lucas Leiva would get a long run in the side, and unfortunately despite being a part of Brazil’s recent squads, he doesn’t have anywhere near the level of ability, creativity, or finesse that Alonso brought to the centre of Liverpool’s midfield. It’s been evident that there’s been a shortage of something different, something inventive in the final third, and that’s limited the options that the likes of Dirk Kuyt, and Yossi Benayoun have had coming from wide positions. Getting Aquilani in the side is a must now, and supporting Torres should be the priority, whether that’s supplying him with good service, or making the effort to burst forward and get numbers in the box.

4. A little less conversation, a little more action.
Rafael Benitez’ future has been discussed more than any other Footballing topic this season and it’s clearly having an effect on everyone at the club. Benitez knows he’s under pressure, and so do the players, so I don’t think he needs reminding in every post-match press conference. Let the man get on with his job, and if the time comes to make a change, do it, but without the unnecessary debating, speculating, and whatever else comes with it.

So, there are the 4 key things that need addressing in order to get Liverpool’s season back on track, if that is even possible. They have a chance in the Europa League to get some silverware which would be a decent consolation for exiting the Champions League, and with the Merseyside Derby on Saturday there’s plenty for the Reds to look forward to. No doubt they’ll be chomping at the bit to get a result at Goodison to keep the fans content, and put their European nightmare firmly to the back of their minds.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 24, 2009 11:27 pm

    A thoroughly deserved knocking out me thinks…absolutely no bad luck involved as rafa tried to explain it was. This team is crap. No strikers. No invention. Average defending. Playing two holding midfielders in every match is tripe football. Why has rafa bought Aquilani and then plays Lucas in this game???

    Come on Everton..stick it into rafa and get him the sack…i personally hope he sees out his 5 year contract tho…

    • maserati4200 permalink
      November 26, 2009 2:22 pm

      They have one striker and he’s world-class: Torres. They have a world-class midfielder: Gerrard and a very good keeper in Reina. Mascherano would be welcomed at most top flight clubs.

      I’d give Kuyt some credit also, if only for work rate. Carragher is past his sell-by date but still gives 100% – just like Gary Neville!

      The rest are second/third rate.

      I expect to see Torres, Reina, and Aquliani disposed of in January. Gerrard will never leave due to the Liverpool mafia threats to his well being.

      I predict a demise of Liverpool, similar to that of Leeds United. Despite all the partisan banter on this site, I would suggest that the and EPL and the European competitions without Liverpool would be diminished.

  2. November 25, 2009 11:15 am

    I don’t. Let him stay on and continue strewing Liverpool over.

  3. Shortbus permalink
    November 25, 2009 3:09 pm

    I agree DanS, and the 2 American Agents…We love em!

  4. George permalink
    November 25, 2009 4:31 pm

    That’s what Rob means by “let him see out his contract” guys.
    Personally, I don’t think he’ll be sacked anytime soon. Is that a bad thing? At the start of the demise I was very pro-sacking, but now I just think the players he’s got aren’t good enough, and he’s got no money to work with.

    Aquilani still isn’t match fit apparantly, despite having over a month back in full training. Strange.

  5. maserati4200 permalink
    November 25, 2009 5:20 pm

    Aquilani is being preserved for a sell-on in January.

  6. November 25, 2009 6:50 pm

    Just one correction on the article. I don’t think I’d classify Fiorentina as Serie A “giants”, as it wasn’t so long ago that they were playing in Serie B.

    I do have some comments. About 2 days prior to the game, Benitez said that Liverpool can still conquer the UCL, which is a ridiculous thing to say considering their future was never in their own hands. That is disrespectful to say Fiorentina was not going to win against Lyon. I’m glad that Benitez was proven wrong.

    To consider Liverpool as favourite to win the Europa League is also disrespectful to some of the other teams in the competition and who may yet enter, with the likes of Inter and Bayern Munich possibly joining Benfica and Valencia.

    I do like the point about consistency and creativity, as I think this can be worked on. I also believe Benitez is the victim of his own transfer policy, by not concentrating on the youth development when he was first signed on.

    I believe its a fair result that theyve been knocked out of UCL, and I would not be surprised if they fail in the Europa league against one of the supposed ‘lesser’ opponents.

  7. November 25, 2009 7:37 pm

    Fiorentina became the 1st Italian side to secure their way to the next stage, but full credits for Liverpool to get an away win in an attempt to rescue themselves, which alas will be to no avail in the end. May be they can indeed go on and try win the europa league to save their season.
    Apparently if they fail to get in the Big 4 or get a silverware by the end of the season Rafa is a goner.

  8. George permalink
    November 25, 2009 8:29 pm

    Fiorentina were in fact playing below Serie B but that was only due to financial reasons. They’re still a massive team in Italy, in terms of support, and indeed class. Surely qualifying in a group with Lyon and Liverpool suggests just that.

    There’s no doubt that Liverpool deserved to go out. Hopefully they’ll regroup, get a result at Goodison, and win the Europa League. A big push for 4th spot is required, as that won’t be easy with Spurs, Man City, Villa all in contention. Lots of work to do!

  9. November 26, 2009 8:55 am

    Its interesting to see how Liverpool can save their season. What happens if they do win the Europa League and beat Man Utd in the reverse fixture to make it the double for the 2nd season in a row, but finish outside the top 4? Would that be considered a successful season, considering they won a trophy they were not even suppose to compete for at the start of the season?

    And what if, despite losing to Liverpool in the reverse fixture, Man Utd go on to win the EPL and the UCL as well? Considering the rivalry between the clubs, this would make for interesting WDKF topic if it happens.

    Of course there are many ifs and buts, but yes, it’ll be interesting what quantifies a successful season for Liverpool from now on.

  10. George permalink
    November 26, 2009 5:44 pm

    I think if we do win the Europa League, beat Manchester United, and finish outside the top 4 then the fans will be happy – it’s better than not winning a single trophy, and there are some decent sides in the Europa League. Beating United always goes down well with ‘pool fans, as we know.

    However, if that happens then obviously next season needs to be a massive push to try and challenge Chelsea and United for the title, and for me nothing less than a semi-final UCL spot would do.

  11. January 9, 2010 2:24 pm

    I did not realise how much Liverpool would miss Alonso. Liverpool are simply not good enough at the minute and really need to strengthen with at least 2 world class players in the january transfer window. Nice Article!

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