After a season in which Liverpool narrowly missed out on the English Premier League title, it seems astonishing that the Reds, following their 2-1 loss to Manchester United on Sunday, are all but finished in the race for the final Champions League spot.
This, of course, prompts the dual question of how it has all gone wrong for the Reds and what to do about
The other primary reason is the loss of deep-lying playmaker
And here's where the problem lies. At the tail end of last season, when Liverpool played expansive, attractive soccer and seemingly scored goals for fun (an astonishing 41 goals in its last 13 games), it seemed that Benitez had finally learned to throw caution to the wind. In signing Aquilani, in theory a more dynamic box-to-box presence and arguably more creative in the final third than Alonso, Benitez looked poised to continue that approach this season. However, after a decidedly poor start with the offensively-limited
For most of the season, Benitez has instead utilized a dual defensive midfield lineup in
Consider this: Despite being out of action for more almost a year recovering from a serious ankle injury and adjusting to a new league, Aquilani has started five Premier League games for Liverpool. In those games, Liverpool has five wins (two coming over Spurs and Aston Villa), with an 11-1 goals for/against tally. Aquilani has one goal and three assists in the five victories and, at various times, displayed the creative flair and delicate passing touch that Liverpool desperately needs. True, Liverpool has various other problems (a lack of effective cover for
As for Benitez? What to do with him? Much has been made of the fact that he has been severely handicapped by the comedy ownership act of
However, the bigger question for Liverpool fans is whether there is really anybody who could do a better job under the present circumstances. Given the severe financial restraints in place, and the almost unrealistic expectations under which any Liverpool manager operates, it's hard to see other elite managers (i.e.
When examined in that light, you could argue that Liverpool is likely best served giving Benitez one more season to see if he can turn things around. For now, Benitez's virtues probably still outweigh his flaws, but the biggest question remains his willingness to adopt a more daring approach.
That huge sigh of relief you heard over the weekend was the collective exhale of U.S. domestic soccer fans everywhere, as MLS finally announced that it had reached accord on what had been, at times, a very contentious labor dispute. While the players did not gain the free agency they sought, MLS will allow for improved movement of players who are out of contract via a re-entry draft. Also, with an increase in salary cap (one imagines this will affect minimum salaries considerably more than the upper-end scale), and with sources indicating that players age 24 and above with a minimum three years of service will receive guaranteed contracts, there's no question that financially the players will be better off. It appears to be that rare deal where both sides are content with the outcome.
"This can all be a positive relationship going forward," Galaxy star
At the heart of the resolution was probably the players' final realization that while MLS owners were prepared to budge on certain issues, the issue of free agency was an absolute deal breaker for them. It's not hard to see why the owners would feel this way -- the entire foundation of MLS is based on its single-entity structure, whereby the league itself, not the teams, negotiates and owns all player contracts. Having already survived a previous legal challenge to the single-entity structure (see the 1997
Granted, from the players' perspective, all they wanted was the same rights that are bestowed on players everywhere else in the world. However, the reality is that in terms of structure, MLS is unlike any other league, and as long as that remains the case, it's unrealistic for MLS players to expect the same treatment as their European counterparts.
Having said that, obviously several issues needed to be addressed on the part of the owners -- and one has to assume that they finally came around in terms of their willingness to compromise. From what I saw of leaked documents from sources during the early stages of the negotiations, MLS management had initially taken such a hard line and contentious stance that the players' only recourse seemingly would be to strike. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the ugly specter of watching replacement players in MLS (how brutal would that have been?) did not come to pass.