Sunday afternoon’s lamentable Premier League encounter only furthered the argument that neither Liverpool nor Manchester City deserve to make it into Europe’s most lucrative football tournament next season.
On an afternoon when Fernando Torres made his long-awaited return to action from injury, Liverpool should have been going for the proverbial jugular – a defeat of Man City on their home patch would have reaffirmed the Merseysiders credentials as top four finishers.
Instead Rafa Benitez chose the five-man midfield option, deploying a lone-striker in the hope of grabbing a goal on the break. That tactic may have worked (just) in the Europa League on the previous Thursday night but Manchester City looked just as frightened of losing and deployed the exact same formation. Stalemate ensued and boy what a stalemate. It is hard to believe two clubs who have spent so much money in recent times could serve up such a dreadful encounter.
For the first time since taking over the helm at Eastlands, Roberto Mancini is now facing intense scrutiny from his supporters and benefactors as his side were booed off for the second consecutive home match. An away trip to Stoke in the fifth round of the FA Cup is hardly the ideal fixture to get Man City back on track but that is the next challenge facing the Italian.
Top scorer Carlos Tevez’s enforced absence (due to his pregnant wife taking ill) is also telling with the Argentinean extending his stay in his homeland and Mancini apparently unaware as to when his striker will return. Mancini needs his 19-goal striker now more than ever and his decision to stay away could not have come at a worse time for City. One victory in their last four league encounters suggests City are struggling to maintain their interest in fourth spot but thankfully for them the erratic form of their closest rivals has kept them in touch.
Rafa Benitez has already gone on record to pledge that his Liverpool side will definitely finish fourth this season. “I have to believe. If the manager doesn’t have confidence it is difficult for the players. I think we have enough quality, Yossi Benayoun is coming back, Fernando Torres is coming back, and Glen Johnson will come back in the next week. So we are now bringing players back and the competition will be better for us and hopefully we can improve.”
Are these the latest ramblings of a manager on the way out or the determined, resolute defiance that Liverpool has so badly lacked on the field this season? Following Sunday’s dreadful performance, Liverpool are quickly running out of games to meet their manager’s promise. The Anfield club failed to win for the 14th time this term and a campaign that promised so much (pre-season) could end with Liverpool saying goodbye to their manager and Champions League football.
The Guardian’s Kevin McCarra best encapsulated the bore 0-0 draw between Man City and Liverpool at Eastlands when he wrote: “Both managers were happy enough with the outcome. It is just a pity that the paying public had to be involved. ”
Photo from fOTOGLIF
The only winners from last weekend’s debacle turned out to be the Sky Sports TV subscribers. Punters enjoyed the good fortune of not viewing the re-arranged fixture (due to Liverpool’s early exit from the Champions League group stage) and thus nothaving to endure four hours of drivel on the regular Super Sunday afternoon prime-time slot.
The onus is now on the likes of the free-spending Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur to step up to the plate and make the coveted fourth spot their own. The current top three in the Premier League look certain to remain in those berths meaning the battle for fourth should be just that, a battle.
Yet what looked like an intensive four-way fight for the chance to earn the vast riches that come with being part of the Champions League is fast turning into a bore-fest with tedious, defense-minded football the order of the day.
Ger McCarthy is the author of Off Centre Circle, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork League junior footballer.