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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Out of the title race, out of the Champions League, out of the League Cup and out of the FA Cup. Under normal circumstances, it's obvious that Rafa Benitez would be out of a job this morning but, unfortunately for Liverpool, these are far from normal circumstances. They are broke, weighed down with enormous interest repayments and their main revenue stream for next season, the Champions League, is slipping out of reach. The last thing they want to do is to pay nearly GBP20m in compensation just to stop Benitez turning up for work tomorrow. Everyone knows that the obsessive Spaniard is unlikely to walk away of his own accord, so it would seem that the only course of action is, in the words of that old British war-time poster, to "Keep Calm And Carry On."

There's no getting away from how awful Liverpool have been this season. With the exception of the win over Manchester United in October, they've been thoroughly uninspiring. There is no spark in the team, no cutting edge in front of goal, no ambition in the midfield and no coherence in the back-line. The players look like strangers, passes go astray, moves that would have led to chances last season grind to a halt in front of goal. There is absolutely nothing tangible to support the partisan loyalists on Merseyside who believe that Liverpool can still recover and finish fourth. But there is always faith.

Faith in a manager who has been here before and survived. Faith in a squad who finished second last season, scoring more goals than any other team in the process. Faith that Liverpool will inexplicably pull a run of form out of the bag and charge up the table. In the Premier League, believe it or not, they have actually strung back-to-back wins together. Granted, it's a narrow injury-time victory over Aston Villa and the eventual defeat of a Wolves side who bested them at Anfield for an hour, but they all count. Martin O'Neill said this week that managers are only ever two games away from a crisis, but the door swings both ways. Liverpool are only five points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with 18 games still to play. That's not exactly an insurmountable lead even if there has been very little all season to suggest that the Reds can overturn it. Benitez has rescued Liverpool before and he can do it again. Besides, who else would you bring in?

There's no money to spend on new players, let alone on a new manager, so you can ignore any fanciful suggestions that Jose Mourinho will be riding in to save the day. The situation is far too parlous for the likes of him or the newly available Guus Hiddink to consider risking their reputations. Remember Terry Venables at Leeds United? The former England boss stepped into replace David O'Leary at Elland Road, but was given barely any money and was forced to sell the big names. He lasted a season and never managed again. Why would Hiddink gamble on that when he knows that he's next in line to the throne at Stamford Bridge and would certainly make the shortlist to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford?

A couple of games could change everything. A couple of wins would close the gap on City. This is a bad season, maybe even a terrible season, but that doesn't make Benitez a terrible manager. He's still the same man who won La Liga with Valencia. He's still the same man who won the European Cup with Gerard Houllier's motley collection of mediocrity. Stick with Benitez and he'll come through in the end. He's leaving it a little late though...