Carragher's title aim may be wide of mark
Liverpool's defensive linchpin still has eyes on that elusive medal but the Reds squad doesn't look strong enough to finish on top.
Saturday 15 August 2009
It is what Jamie Carragher once described as the "gaping, lingering void" in his trophy collection; the one he fears will never be filled before "that dreaded moment when I pull on a red shirt for the last time" and on the face of things this may be the best chance in years to do something about bringing the domestic title back to Anfield.
Manchester United stare at the gaping 30-goal a season void Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez have left and wonder whether Dimitar Berbatov, the crux of their season, might start to fill it. (United, not Liverpool, have suffered the most collateral damage amid Real Madrid's quest for continental domination.) Chelsea begin another renaissance, with another new manager and another new system. Arsenal fight for any kind of foothold on the Premier League hegemony. Liverpool, you might argue, ought to be sailing serenely on, carrying the momentum which they held last May, when the season finished two weeks before their late charge could carry them to supremacy having brushed aside the other members of the big four: 14 points from 18 against them in league competition.
Size up the kind of summer Benitez has experienced, though, and it becomes evident that this time, with the 20-season absence of Carragher's favoured crown sitting heavily again, Liverpool are the club who face most frustration. Xabi Alonso is lost from the spine of Benitez's side and Javier Mascherano would have gone with him if he his heart's desire had been granted. So much for Carragher's maxim that he is one of the true bearers of the Anfield torch, for whom "being a Liverpool player is a win
ners' medal in itself." In Alonso's place arrives Alberto Aquilani, an Italian as integral to Liverpool's ambitions for the months ahead as Berbatov is for United. Liverpool, though, may not be able to rely heavily on him until the leaves are on the ground, given that he may not be match fit for two months.
Glen Johnson looks a shrewd acquisition, who will offer more support to Dirk Kuyt on Liverpool's right than the Bernabeu-bound Alvaro Arbeloa. But where, beyond that, are the players who will turn Liverpool into an unstoppable force and more specifically, bulk out the painfully thin front line? The list of goalscoring prospects Benitez trotted out this week was an unconvincing one: Andriy Voronin, back from a successful loan at Hertha Berlin but an individual Benitez expected to have dispensed with by now, David Ngog and Ryan Babel. None has proved himself in the Premier League.
Two weeks remain to change things. The £21.7m taken from Tom Hicks and George Gillett's Cayman Islands holding company and injected into the club, as revealed by the club's July accounts, taken with a £4.5m "profit" from sales over acquisitions in the past year suggests recent hints of impoverishment from Benitez may be a smoke screen designed to ease negotiations for Valencia's David Silva.
But, eight months after Robbie Keane headed back down the M6, Liverpool need another striker if they are not to suffer the same unsustainable reliance on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres which carried them through last season. Benitez's latest argument against going back into the transfer market was ominous tortology. "To sign a big, big name you have to change everything. If you bring in a big name then you have to move your players." The question mark over Gerrard's fitness for Tottenham tomorrow brings that familiar comment on Liverpool back to life: a title-winning first XI but little else.
Neither do they look defensively impervious. It is a season for Daniel Agger to demonstrate that he is as reliable a centre back as he is an elegant one while Martin Skrtel, a player of demonstrable pedigree, must take some responsibility from Carragher's shoulders. The body is not as able as the mind is willing when you are a 31-year-old Premier League centre back. The void in the cabinet will drive Carragher on but the genuine suspicion is that it will be there, making eyes at him, for at least another year.
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