Maybe Liverpool's owners should just insist that Rafael Benitez loses the goatee if he is to save his job. Sprouting the facial hair last summer was one of those classic mid-life decisions, synonymous with ditching the family saloon for a high-powered Harley-Davdison, and, given Benitez's predilection for making perverse choices – his team selections, his formations – it made it look like an even more unwise move.
Given that Benitez has also spent much of this season as a man-of-war in conflict with Tom Hicks and George Gillett and, now, apparently chief executive Rick Parry, it was an even more unstable state of affairs. He was at it again yesterday when appearing to respond to Liverpool's collapsing League season by, in inference at least, blaming the uncertainty over his future, claiming it created an unsettling effect on him and his players at a time when they could have been contenders. Hmmm.
Those quotes coming out of Spain were later denied by Liverpool but the manager certainly seemed unsettled yesterday. Indeed, Benitez was going berserk. Increasingly red-faced, his exasperation on the touch-line was plain. The assistant referee, the fourth official. They both were the recipients of his rising distress. "I want to see the replay [of the game]," Benitez later said when asked about his manic demeanour. "I was watching some hand-balls and the linesman was close to me and did not see the same thing. Maybe I need to change my glasses."
He has certainly been accused of myopia himself at times and he was at it again yesterday with his team selection. Steven Gerrard was in the centre for England in midweek but found himself back on the right for Liverpool. It is a position he does not enjoy and has managed to avoid for most of this campaign. Given that Benitez had two right-wingers on the bench, and three wingers in all among his substitutes, it, along with fielding Leiva Lucas, appeared one of those single-minded decisions that he has infuriatingly made his own.
But then, in a tactic designed to unsettle Chelsea's midfield, Gerrard was allowed to come inside, with Dirk Kuyt drifting, occasionally, right. Except that, in reality, it meant Liverpool had no width on that flank and when Joe Cole, midway through the first-half, was given the ball just inside the penalty area there was not a Liverpool player within yards of him. Javier Mascherano rushed back but caught Cole and Liverpool should have conceded a penalty.
That they did not was purely down to luck and a poor decision by referee Mike Riley. If the award had been given it would have been largely down to Benitez's over-elaborate deployments. He said that "small details" would be crucial and they almost were especially as, gallingly for their supporters, his team had the upper hand. Chelsea, indeed, appear to have hit the wall and are desperately in need of their returning players – although manager Avram Grant disputed John Terry's claim that he would be back in a week. "Three weeks," he maintained.
A draw was a highly credible result, even if it was earned through a dour performance. More importantly it leaves Liverpool with three points, with a game in hand, to make up on fourth-placed Everton in the Champions League places. "We need to think about three points next week," said Benitez. Pity for him, his stress levels and Liverpool that they weren't earned yesterday.Reuse content