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Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Hansen on Liverpool

Gerrard and Torres have scored 46% of Liverpool's league goals in the last three seasons

By Alan Hansen
Former Liverpool defender and Match of the Day pundit

Rafael Benitez's future as Liverpool manager is again the source of speculation - and while all that I am hearing from the Anfield hierarchy suggest he is in no danger of losing his job, results dictate everything.

I will never advocate the sacking of any manager because I was someone who never had the bottle to do the job, but Benitez is under pressure. This is not me saying it - the facts, in the shape of poor results, are saying it.

If you lose six games out of seven as Liverpool manager you are under pressure. You cannot hide from it. If Liverpool's season is finished at the start of November, FA Cup apart, do not try and tell me Benitez is not under pressure.

It makes the Champions League game against Lyon on Wednesday and home league games against Birmingham and, particularly, Manchester City of huge significance now.

I tipped Liverpool to win the Premier League before the start of the season. This was not a prediction based on old Anfield loyalties - it was based on the evidence of what I had seen from Liverpool in the last three months of last season.

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Benitez, after the way Liverpool had taken Real Madrid apart in the Champions League at Anfield, looked to have discovered the way to play against teams at home - namely by going out, penning them in and battering them.

Liverpool had enjoyed good results against the other top four sides while Manchester United were inevitably weakened by the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. People talk about Eric Cantona and Thierry Henry, but Ronaldo was the biggest player ever in the Premier League, so United were never going to replace what he gave them.

I really felt this was going to be Liverpool's season, but there is not just a difference in the level of performances from week to week, there is a chasm. In the space of six days, they performed magnificently against Manchester United and then more or less went down without a fight at Fulham.

Lots has been made of the departure of Xabi Alonso. I believe this has been a factor, but when I hear people suggest he was Liverpool's best player last season I almost laugh out loud. If Alonso was better than Gerrard last season, then I never kicked a ball in my life.

Liverpool missed a trick by not signing Gareth Barry. He was desperate to come to Liverpool at one point and would have been perfect for them. He is English, mature, professional and can play with equal efficiency in a variety of positions. The way he has performed for Manchester City has shown what Liverpool have missed out on.

Xabi Alonso
Liverpool have missed the midfield creativity of Xabi Alonso

At Fulham on Saturday, the much-maligned Lucas played 12 or 14 passes forward that were as good as anything he has produced, but Liverpool were still useless. And I didn't see Alonso on the pitch when Liverpool played so well the previous Sunday against Manchester United. So, yes, Alonso's departure has been a factor, but it must not be over-stated.

Benitez spent his big money in the summer on Roma's Alberto Aquilani, but we have only seen 15 minutes of him in the Carling Cup at Arsenal because of injury and illness. He played one ball over the top that was world-class, but we wait to see more.

At the end of last season, Liverpool had a wonderful spine running down the team. Pepe Reina is an excellent keeper, then you had Jamie Carragher in central defence, Alonso and Javier Mascherano in midfield, and then Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres further up the pitch.

Alonso's gone, Gerrard and Torres have been injured, and Carragher has not been at his best. This is the time when others need to step up to the plate, but they haven't done it.

The best Liverpool sides I played in had rotten days even when we were winning silverware with regularity at home and abroad. But then it was a case of thinking "we're all in this together", rallying around and coming out fighting. That was not the case at Fulham at the weekend. Then there was a lack of fight - and that can't happen at Liverpool Football Club.

If you took the two best players out of any top side, it would have an effect but would not be catastrophic... if you take Gerrard and Torres out of Liverpool's team, it is all over

After a superb end to last season, Liverpool rightly looked at areas they could improve, and the obvious one was out wide. Benitez addressed this by signing Glen Johnson.

He has done well, but Emiliano Insua has struggled on the other side. He is only a boy and we must bear that in mind, but at the moment I cannot understand why Benitez keeps playing him. To get the balance right out wide, maybe something has been sacrificed in other defensive areas, a problem made worse by Carragher and Martin Skrtel struggling more than Liverpool are used to.

Liverpool never really had to worry about central defence before, it just worked. There has been a lack of confidence this season and mistakes have been made that were not being made before.

Benitez has been unlucky in that Daniel Agger, one of the young players of real quality you can see coming through at Liverpool and becoming a real stalwart, has been injured so often.

Carragher was immense in the win against Manchester United at Anfield, but I thought Agger was magnificent. He has been a real loss. For him to come back in, show his quality, and then go out injured again is a real stroke of ill-fortune.

The big problem for Benitez has been his signings in what you might term the mid-range bracket - and this only highlights the over-reliance on the two players of unquestionable world-class talent in Gerrard and Torres.

If you took the two best players out of any top side, it would have an effect but would not be catastrophic. If you take Gerrard and Torres out of Liverpool's team, it is all over.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez
Benitez faces games against Lyon and Birmingham in the coming week

I looked at the Liverpool team at Craven Cottage and I can bet my bottom dollar that Fulham would have really fancied their chances. Never underestimate the impact a team-sheet can have on the opposing dressing room.

You might see Gerrard and Torres on the Liverpool team-sheet and still be confident you can beat them, but inside you will know you will be up against two players who can win matches against any team in the world. This has an effect.

Sooner or later, Liverpool have to find players who can take responsibility when they are not playing. You have Reina, Carragher and Mascherano, but where are the others?

This is where Benitez's buying has to be questioned. He made a wonderful signing in Torres at the top end of the market, but the percentage of success in the £3m-£10m category is not high enough. You're not asking for it to be unrealistically high, but you're asking for it to be higher than it has been under Benitez.

Agger can be counted as a success, while Reina is a top keeper, but there are not too many successes elsewhere.

You could argue that Liverpool should be in the market for £20m or £30m players on a regular basis to get around that problem, but that's another story involving other parts of the club.

Benitez's substitutions came under attack at Fulham, particularly the decision to take Torres off when it was 1-1, but I wouldn't criticise the manager too much for that. Torres was really struggling and Benitez had to weigh up whether to continue playing him and face the prospect of losing him for several weeks.

Other substitutions can be questioned, though, such as Yossi Benayoun's on Saturday and during the defeat against Lyon in the Champions League.

The results Liverpool have had mean Benitez is inevitably under pressure and some pivotal games are coming up.

The worry for me is that while pivotal games in April or May are fine, defeats in October could mean having vital matches this early in the season, which makes the forthcoming fixtures even more important for Liverpool and Benitez.

Alan Hansen was speaking to Phil McNulty



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see also
Benitez defends Torres withdrawal
31 Oct 09 |  Liverpool
Hodgson refuses to write off Reds
01 Nov 09 |  Fulham
Red cards were harsh - Benitez
31 Oct 09 |  Liverpool
Fulham 3-1 Liverpool
31 Oct 09 |  Premier League
Benitez fears for Gerrard fitness
30 Oct 09 |  Liverpool
Benitez job safe says Reds chief
25 Oct 09 |  Premier League
Gillett gives backing to Benitez
22 Oct 09 |  Liverpool


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