WOLVERHAMPTON, January 27 – Rafael Benitez silenced his critics with victory over Spurs less than a week ago.But his detractors will be back in full voice again after their hugely disappointing 0-0 draw with relegation-threatened Wolves at Molineux on Tuesday.
If the interest emanating from Juventus is serious, regarding the Spaniard taking over as their next manager, opposition to his departure from Anfield will be reducing even further as a result.
Their inability to dispose of a Wolves team who had lost their previous three league games and failed to score a goal was painful to behold and once again the tactics of the Liverpool manager have been placed under the microscope.
The lowest scorers in the Premier League against the side with only 17 goals away from Anfield in all competitions did not bode well and it was attritional stuff.
Even with Steven Gerrard back after missing two games with a hamstring problem, Liverpool looked a million miles away from the side of their halcyon days and Alan Hansen’s goal that delivered their last victory at Molineux back in 1979.
Gerrard was clearly still not fully fit and it was beyond the wildest expectations for him to conjure a match-winning performance on his own and Liverpool’s decision to play with a solitary striker in Dirk Kuyt again raised question marks over the cautious tactics of Benitez.
His lack of adventure, against a side shot with self-doubt and a lack of confidence was staggering and once again Alberto Aquilani was the most expensive substitute the Premier League has seen for some time as he watched in despair at Liverpool’s ineffectiveness.
Wolves were in no mood for adventure either, desperate to improve on a run of seven defeats in their last ten games, but employing Kevin Doyle as a lone striker meant chances for them would be at a premium.
Accepting them has been Wolves’ Achilles heel all season and their regular failing came back to haunt them after they had frustrated Liverpool with their flooded midfield for over half an hour.
Counter-attacking from deep, Matt Jarvis exposed the danger of playing Jamie Carragher out of position as a right-back, because of his lack of pace and Doyle, one of the few genuine players of class at McCarthy’s disposal, reacted swiftly to force his way ahead of Martin Skrtel and meet the winger’s low cross at the near post.
But his instinctive flick was not delicate enough to defeat Pepe Reina.
Doyle was a constant menace, his willingness to cover the miles incredible and even in his solitary role, Liverpool’s nerves creaked every time he was in possession.
He forced one save from Reina with a header, whilst off balance and another rising shot from 25 yards flew over the target with Reina again scrambling to position himself.
At least it passed as a threat, which is more than Liverpool posed throughout 45 minutes of complete ennui for their travelling support.
It was not until three minutes after the interval that they registered a shot on target.
When another passing move broke down, the ball looped up for Albert Riera to produce an instinctive and speculative lob from fully 30-yards.
For a fleeting moment Marcus Hahnemann wore the look of a worried man, until he regained his bearings and pushed the effort away one-handed. The fact that was their only effort on target in 90 minutes underlines Liverpool’s ineffectiveness and the critics of Benitez will not have missed the point.