Rafa's pursuit of perfection exposes Reds' major flaws
Published 09/03/2010 | 05:00
RAFAEL Benítez, on the eve of this game, had made just one demand of his Liverpool team, a simple, if ambitious request, that they should finish the season without error as they attempt to retain their Champions League status.
Right on cue, Liverpool proved the folly of such challenges.
For all the disappointment Anfield and its travelling branch have endured this season, they will not have seen a performance as error-strewn as this.
There have been plenty of disappointing performances for Liverpool supporters to endure this season but this was one of Benitez's strongest teams being dismantled by Premier League strugglers.
Benítez asked his players to be flawless. They responded by showing him every single flaw they possess.
The Liverpool boss was particularly unhappy with his side's first-half performance and questioned the desire of his team.
"Wigan worked very hard but we gave the ball away too much to pay dividends. We had too many things that went wrong.
"We have to show more character if we want to get in the top four and cannot guarantee anything from the rest of the games if we don't show the right kind of character or attitude."
Benitez admitted that star striker Fernando Torres needs more games, but added that the team needs to "give him more".
It is easy, with Liverpool, to blame the quality of the supporting cast, rather than those in the lead roles, for their failings. Lucas is the usual scapegoat, or perhaps the naïve Emiliano Insua.
Here, though, nobody was immune as Liverpool's collective nerve failed them.
The youngsters and the fringe players struggled, true, but of infinitely more concern were the travails of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Torres and the rest of Liverpool's standard-bearers. Passes were misplaced, tackles misjudged, runs untracked.
The goal, of course, came from a poorly directed pass, from Dirk Kuyt, but such a calamity had been brewing. Liverpool had diced with disaster on one occasion too many.
It would be simple to suggest that Liverpool could not cope with the pitch, relaid for this fixture and not, as the terminology has it, sufficiently "bedded in".
Such rationale is bunk. Wigan, arguably a less direct side than their more illustrious guests regardless of quality of turf, coped admirably.
Perhaps the problem, then, is psychological. Liverpool's troubles this season have drawn Benítez's side into their shells. Passes are sideways or backwards, defending is deep and in numbers. There is no desire to take risks.
Such an attitude may seem suited to preventing mistakes, but, as Liverpool proved here, it has precisely the opposite effect. Mistakes will, and must, be made, because risks must be taken.
Not doing so will almost certainly cost Benítez's side their place at Europe's top table. That would be the biggest mistake of all. (© Daily Telegraph, London)