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Alan Hansen: Liverpool cannot afford to lose this week

Rafael Benitez - Alan Hansen: Liverpool cannot afford to lose this week
Mind the gap: Rafael Benítez will be mindful of the points difference between his Liverpool side and the Premier League champions when they visit Anfield Photo: GETTY IMAGES

By next Sunday evening, they could be 10 points behind United and struggling to survive in the Champions League, but the real issue for Liverpool and Benítez is qualification for next season's Champions League.

As a manager of one of the 'big four' clubs, it goes with the territory that your job will be on the line if you fail to qualify for Europe's top competition and all the revenue that brings. And Liverpool are by no means a shoe-in to finish in the Premier League top four this season.

Manchester City and Tottenham arguably have stronger squads and you also have Aston Villa, who underlined their qualities by beating Chelsea on Saturday.

That is why this week is so important. Two defeats would be catastrophic because Liverpool's title hopes would be over and they would face a real battle to progress beyond the group stages of the Champions League.

If you have two games that define your season in April, then that's great. Two defining games in January wouldn't be so good, but to have those games in the middle of October suggests something is fundamentally wrong somewhere.

People keep pointing to the sale of Xabi Alonso, but I'd suggest that the exits of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tévez at United were bigger losses, yet United are sitting at the top of the table.

Liverpool need a new ground and you can argue that there has been a lack of investment, but to be fair to the owners, Benítez has bought a lot of players.

Benítez has struggled in the £3-10m region, though, and players signed for those fees are an important factor. United signed Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra within that bracket and they have developed into two of the most important players in the league. Similarly, Arsenal appear to have done well with Thomas Vermaelen.

But Benítez hasn't done well with anybody in that price region. Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and Glen Johnson have been good signings, but they all cost big money.

Over a length of time, you need four or five players in the £3-10m bracket to become great buys, but I don't see any at Liverpool.

We all know that they rely heavily on their two out-and-out superstars – Torres and Steven Gerrard – but whenever they are out, other players must step up and deliver and it isn't happening.

But the big problem on the pitch is that, six months ago, Liverpool looked rock-solid in defence, yet they now look so vulnerable. Benítez might disagree, but whenever a team changes its formation to accommodate three centre-backs, as Liverpool did at Sunderland, it's an admission that you are struggling.

The results will tell you that Liverpool have been leaking goals - 10 from set-pieces - and, with the way things are going, you simply cannot see them going unbeaten for 10 or 20 games. Unless they do that, they are not going to get back in the title race.

You can be sure the rest of the Premier League will not show any sympathy for Liverpool. The history and tradition of the 70s and 80s means nothing in 2009.

The mood around Liverpool at the moment is one of total and utter doom and gloom, but they cannot feel sorry for themselves even with the intervention of that beach ball!

While the picture will be bleak if they lose to Lyon and United, a win against the champions will close the gap on Sir Alex Ferguson's team to four points.

If that happens, Liverpool will be back in business, but they certainly cannot afford to lose this week.


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