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Liverpool are still lacking those special reserves

The depth of talent in Rafael Benítez's squad has never been so shallow

alberto aquilani

Liverpool's Alberto Aquilani comes on as a substitute during Wednesday's reserve win over Sunderland. Other than the £20m Italian, there was not much on show for the watching co-owner George Gillett. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

In football the word "crisis" is apt to roll too easily off the tongue. Portsmouth have had a difficult start this season and did not take a point from their first seven matches, but only when they were running out of money to pay the players' wages did they face a crisis. Liverpool are not in crisis, not yet anyway. It is just that they are experiencing so many problems coming from so many directions that they appear to be courting a crisis with the ardour of lovelorn suitors, complete with bouquets and boxes of Milk Tray.

Off the field there is the matter of the debt that Liverpool's US owners ran up buying the club and are now trying to restructure. But it is events on the field that have been talking up the latest prognostications of gloom and doom and refuelling speculation about the future of Rafael Benítez as the Liverpool manager.

Should Benítez's team lose at home to Manchester United tomorrow they will be 10 points behind the Premier League leaders. More pertinently, such a result would increase the doubts about Liverpool's ability to renew their membership of the Champions League by again finishing in the top four. Being relegated from Europe's richest tournament would cost the club almost as much as being relegated to the Championship. No parachute payments here.

As it is, Liverpool are in danger of having their progress in the Champions League end before the knockout stage after losing 2-1 at home to Lyon on Tuesday, a performance that confirmed the feeble impression left by their 2-0 defeat at Fiorentina that was followed by further losses against Chelsea and Sunderland. The excuse that they were without Fernando Torres and lost Steven Gerrard again after 25 minutes forfeited any credibility it might have had when Chelsea, still missing the suspended Didier Drogba, cruised past Atlético Madrid 4‑0 on Wednesday night, Manchester United having seen off CSKA Moscow with a polished display on an artificial pitch and despite the absence of Wayne Rooney.

In Benítez's five years at Anfield Liverpool have won one European Cup and reached the final of another. They have also won the FA Cup. But in the League, the winning of which used to be the club's raison d'être, Liverpool remain not-so-nearly men and on present evidence it could be argued that the depth of talent in Benítez's squad has never been so shallow. Compared to the ease with which Alex Ferguson's United team adapted to the plastic surface in the Luzhniki stadium, Liverpool could have been playing on broken glass against Lyon.

What is important now is how Liverpool react to their worst run of defeats for 22 years. Before Tuesday they had not lost four games in succession since the spring of 1987, when Kenny Dalglish's side were beaten by Tottenham, Wimbledon and Norwich in the League and Arsenal in the final of the Littlewoods Cup. The run cost Liverpool the championship, in which they finished runners-up to Everton, but the following season, having signed John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Ray Houghton from Watford, Newcastle and Oxford respectively, they regained the title while playing the best football seen from an English team up to that time.

Liverpool used to get over problems of form and bad results by pretending they had never happened or at least not dwelling on them, such was the strength of the club's structure on and off the pitch. In the early 70s Bill Shankly's side went goalless for five matches, the last of them a 0-0 draw at Wolves. After the game reporters approached Shankly to find out what had gone wrong with his attack. Shanks went white and backed away. "We don't talk about these things," he protested. "We never talk about them." The hacks were left speechless as well as quoteless.

By contrast Don Welsh, the manager at Anfield when Liverpool last lost five in a row, followed the boy scout code of smiling and whistling during all difficulties. The run occurred early in the 1953‑54 season that ended with Liverpool relegated after 50 years in the First Division. After a 3‑0 defeat at Arsenal had sent them down, Welsh breezed into the dressing room with words of comfort: "Never mind, lads, the reserves lost too." Some comfort.

Strange nobody asked Benítez about the Liverpool's reserves after the Lyon game. Not that he would have had much to say on the matter. What reserves?

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