LIVERPOOL'S success under Rafael Benitez has been achieved on the back of famous comebacks. It's become increasingly apparent another will be required to salvage this season's championship challenge.
A damaging setback at Bolton Wanderers at the weekend merely highlighted the fault lines that run through Benitez's side at present and are threatening to derail their title bid before the clocks go back. Three defeats in their opening seven games is not good enough, particularly for a team that began the season harbouring genuine hopes of knocking Chelsea off their Premiership perch.
Such talk should remain on the backburner for now as Benitez grapples with a recurring set of problems.
Liverpool were on the same 10-point mark at this stage last season and went on to register a club record Premiership total, but it's the team of the Spaniard's first campaign that this one presently mirrors. Unbeatable at Anfield, Liverpool are struggling to score, let alone win, on their travels, with Bolton joining Everton and Chelsea on a growing list of away-day disappointment.
Yes, it's hard to legislate for the bewildering decision by assistant referee Andy Halliday that paved the way for Gary Speed's opener on the half-hour on Saturday.
And fortune is certainly not favouring Benitez's side, with the woodwork being struck again for remarkably the seventh successive game. But bad luck stories can only wash for so long and Liverpool had plenty of time to recover from going behind at the Reebok. However, their chronic inability to convert chances to goals away from home leaves them open to damage from officiating blunders and wonder goals such as Didier Drogba's at Stamford Bridge earlier in the month. In comparison, Bolton scored with their only two shots on goal on Saturday, suggesting problems at both ends of the pitch that Benitez must reconcile.
Liverpool were handed a less than favourable road schedule in the opening months of the season, and, with trips to Manchester United and Arsenal next up, matters won't ease up any time soon.
But that should have made it all the more imperative for Liverpool to make a strong start to the season rather than repeat the unsteady first steps that have undermined their previous two campaigns under Benitez. However, the manager's insistence on a more attacking policy is evidently disrupting Liverpool's trademark resilience away from Anfield.
Each defeat leaves the Spaniard's rotation policy open to question and, as tiresome as that debate has become, it must be said Benitez got his team selection wrong at the Reebok. Peter Crouch would be forgiven for wondering just what he has to do to earn a regular starting place.
His confidence sky high after those memorable two goals in midweek against Galatasaray, the striker should have been the first name on the teamsheet instead of finding himself back on the bench, restricted to a second-half substitute appearance when the game was already slipping away. And while the decision to again employ Steven Gerrard on the left met with only limited success, Benitez could argue he was let down by a number of below-par performances.
The Liverpool manager made four changes in all on Saturday, opting to bolster his defence by reintroducing Sami Hyypia and John Arne Riise to the back line after the fraught final half-hour against Galatasaray in midweek.
But while Sam Allardyce is not one to push the envelope in terms of tactics, Bolton's simple but effective methods again ultimately proved too much for Liverpool. That said, the home supporters can't be overly impressed as the attendance was way below capacity on Saturday.
Benitez had again voiced his concerns at the agricultural manner of the Trotters, but in future maybe discretion would be advised as Allardyce later revealed the Spaniard's comments were plastered around the home dressing room as a motivational tool.
Ironic, then, that for once Bolton kept their bruising ways largely in check, save for Abdoulaye Faye's strong arm to the back of Dirk Kuyt's head for which the centre-back was fortunate not to receive a second yellow card having been earlier booked for upending a breaking Gerrard. Kuyt raced off for stitches and emerged with a fetching blood-stained streak through his blonde locks, but the injury eventually forced him off soon after the interval.
By then, Liverpool were behind following a piece of pathetic officiating from referee's assistant Halliday on 30 minutes. Pepe Reina has courted trouble this season with his kicks by racing to the edge of penalty area before releasing the ball from his hands, but was wrongly adjudged to have carried possession outside the box by Halliday who, despite being behind play, had the gall to then point out he was in line with the incident.
Reina, though, was at fault from the subsequent free-kick, choosing to dive behind the cover of the Liverpool defensive wall as Speed's low, driven shot flew into the opposite corner of the goal from Ivan Campo's lay-off. Reina does not at present instil the same confidence as last season, and can't be helped by the constant chopping and changing in front of him.
Speed's goal was against the run of play as Liverpool frittered away early chances, Kuyt soliciting a diving save from Jussi Jaaskelainen with a header from Gerrard's free-kick while Xabi Alonso crashed a venomous 20-yard volley against the post after Tal Ben Haim had only half-cleared Craig Bellamy's left-wing cross.
Bellamy, recalled to the starting line-up, was industrious without ever looking like scoring his first Premiership goal but was often foraging down the flanks rather than in a central position. Once behind, the disappointing Jermaine Pennant's lack of confidence in his left foot meant a chance was lost from Bellamy's searching cross. The Welshman then laid off for Gerrard to crash in an effort that was parried by Jaaskelainen and the Bolton goalkeeper was equal to another shot from the Anfield skipper.
However, Bolton extended their lead on 51 minutes as Liverpool conceded yet another goal from a wide position, the unmarked Campo arriving from deep to head Kevin Davies's cross in off the underside of the crossbar. Liverpool, though, lacked the conviction of their opponents and struggled to muster any meaningful response.
Alonso twice fired over before shooting at Jaaskelainen, who also saved from substitute Luis Garcia, and though Bellamy saw a shot deflected wide and Gerrard hit the side-netting late on, it was all a bit too easy for Bolton in the closing moments.
On a day of few positives, at least Liverpool have completed their series of early kick-offs that Benitez believes has affected his team.
What's certain is that time is now running out for the Anfield side to wake up their championship challenge.
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