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Fighting for fourth

Short of stretching out an arm and saying: ‘Talk to the hand, because the face doesn’t want to listen,’ Rafa Benítez could not have made his disinclination to talk about Everton more clear.

Ever since he described Liverpool’s neighbours as a small club trans-Stanley Park relations have been edgy, and after the season he has had, with squabbling American owners, Jürgen Klinsmann, an Arsenal revival and now Steven Gerrard breaking cover to make life difficult, the last thing Benítez needs is to be nudged out of the Champions League places by the value-for-money revolution taking place at Goodison Park.

As of Monday evening, and Everton’s terrific result in becoming only the second team after Arsenal to win at Manchester City, that unpleasant prospect can no longer be ignored – even if Benítez is entitled to do his best. ‘I am confident we will finish fourth,’ he said. ‘In any case, Aston Villa are also close to us in the table. It is not just Everton.’

That is true, but Everton $47 nwt kay celine nude lace mesh evening party cocktail dress size s are in fourth place at the moment, and Everton were the last unfancied team to crack the top four. That was in 2005, when 0 celine bag 17610 3xvh 01bcx Liverpool were obliged to win the Champions $950 new celine us 11 eu 41 black leather platform wedges ankle sandals shoes bx League, pulling out all the stops with a phantom goal against Chelsea and a scarcely credible comeback from 3-0 down in the final, just to be in the competition the following season. So unlikely was the whole scenario that Uefa had to bend their rules to allow five teams from England to enter the tournament, including both from Merseyside.

That cannot happen again. Uefa rules now state that should the Champions League be won by a team from outside the league qualifying echelon, the winners will defend their trophy at the expense of the lowest-placed league finishers. In other words, should Liverpool win another European Cup, something that cannot be discounted after two visits to the final in the past three years, and their neighbours finish fourth, then all Everton’s efforts this season will earn them is another crack at the Uefa Cup.

That would be a major disappointment for all concerned at Goodison. At least Everton’s finances are not $1900 celine drape front cap sleeve wrap crepe tunic blouse mini dress 36 predicated on continued Champions League revenue. No one has followed that model since Leeds United blew up so spectacularly, though it is felt that Liverpool’s recent restructuring of their takeover debt could leave them vulnerable should a significant income stream dry up. Finishing fifth, without the safety net winning this season’s final would provide, would test Anfield’s delicate financial equilibrium. It goes without saying that Everton would not mind giving a tottering edifice a firm shove.

Especially as Everton have done what Liverpool set out to do at the start of the season. They spent (for them) a sizeable sum on Yakubu and a couple of others, and made a significant leap forward. They are in fourth place entirely on merit and have been consistently impressive in Europe. That was the idea at Anfield too, but after spending (for them) a sizeable sum on Fernando Torres and a few others, Liverpool have huffed and puffed in Europe and gone backwards in the Premier League.

When Gerrard voiced his dissatisfaction a few days ago at always hearing a bright future was around the corner for Liverpool, he pointed to Arsenal’s ability to make relatively low-key signings and make things happen almost straight away. Arsenal are seen as a club of approximately Liverpool’s size and stature, without the clout in the transfer market that Chelsea or Manchester United can bring to bear. Everton are nowhere on $1900 celine drape front cap sleeve wrap crepe tunic blouse mini dress 36 that scale and Gerrard’s thoughts should David Moyes’ team pip them to a Champions League place would probably be unprintable.

Many have read rebellion or restlessness into Gerrard’s musings, though according to his former team-mate Steve McManaman, who will be commentating on today’s game at Bolton for Setanta, the Liverpool captain is guilty of nothing more than telling the truth. ‘Liverpool have had a bad season, what’s he supposed to do?’ McManaman asked. ‘Pretend they have had a good one? Keep his head down and avoid the subject? Stevie only said what everybody else has been saying: that it is unacceptable for Liverpool to be writing the domestic season off in February. In terms of the Premier League they are worse off this season than last and I’m not surprised he is unhappy. The real surprise would be if he came out and said everyone is delighted with the way the season is going. He wants to win the Premier League, everyone at Liverpool does. I did too, but after a certain time I had to make a decision and leave.

‘I’m not saying Stevie should do the same, because Liverpool are still a very successful side in Europe and he has already won the Champions League, but Liverpool needed to get closer in the League this season and it hasn’t happened. I never thought they would win the League this time, I said at the start of the season 0 celine 173823ska 18cc may craft that 21 points was a lot to make up, but I must admit I thought the top four would pull away more than they have done and Liverpool would stay in touch with the leaders.’

Like Gerrard, McManaman is a fan of management as practised by Arsène Wenger. ‘I take my hat off to the man,’ he said. ‘Every single year he goes out and buys someone you have hardly heard of for small change and not only increases their value by millions of pounds but gets them playing as if they have been at Arsenal all their lives. Bacary Sagna and Eduardo have been brilliant for Arsenal this season.’

Fair-minded Scouser that he is, McManaman has been pretty impressed by Everton, too. ‘They have been fantastic,’ he said. ‘And David Moyes has to take his share of the credit. I was impressed by the way he dropped Andy Johnson at City and got his team to play in such an organised way. Everton know what they are doing and good luck to them, but if you push me I would still take Liverpool to finish fourth. The Anfield derby is still to come, and there will certainly be a lot riding on it.’

It is reasonable to suppose Benítez will field his strongest team, whatever that might be, when Everton come visiting at the end of this month. He has promised less rotation now that the fixtures have begun to thin out. Some feel Liverpool’s undoing has been due to having too many similar players for the same positions. Javier Mascherano celine nano replica, Xabi Alonso and Lucas Leiva at the back of midfield, for example. Or Peter Crouch, Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin as second striker. Benítez has sometimes seemed to be trying to give everyone a game, whereas Everton, even with a European campaign on the go, have prospered by using the same core of players.

‘I don’t need a bigger squad,’ Benítez said, somewhat unnecessarily. ‘If you $1k iconic nib celine bam bam sandals nude $1450 bnib celine off 37 us 7 have 20 fantastic players you don’t need 28. What we can do is keep the good players we have – we are working on new deals for Mascherano [which $2k $50 cheap celine slippers for women celine spring has now gone through], Crouch and Sami Hyypia – and keep improving. Despite all that has happened this season I think we will finish fourth. I also have confidence I will be here for longer than the two years that remain on my contract and that we will win the Premier League before I am finished.’

If that sounds like putting a brave face on disappointing results and endless machinations behind the scenes, Moyes is just the opposite. He is keeping his feet on the ground.

‘We are playing better and our football is better, but Liverpool have a game in hand,’ he said. ‘If they win that they go above us on goal difference, so at the moment we can’t be seen as favourites. We have been fourth for about two months now, though [apart from last weekend when Everton played a day later]. We have been chased but we have kept with it.’

Is fourth the ceiling for Everton? ‘If you want to compete higher than that somewhere down the line we will have to find cash to allow us to do it,’ Moyes said. ‘We used to think only the top four would spend the top money, but we now have to think about what Manchester City are going to spend, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Newcastle, even Portsmouth [today’s visitors to Goodison]. That’s what has changed. You have to spend now simply to keep up with teams you are trying to stay above. If you don’t they will overtake you. We have reached a situation now where we need to go to the next level.’

Rotation v consistency

Liverpool and Everton’s strongest line-ups – and why Rafa’s rotation makes sense

The difference is the Everton team almost picks itself. There’s a choice between Neville and Carsley, and that’s about it. Benítez has an abundance of too-similar players. It is easy to say Torres should be the number-one striker, but who should partner him? There’s not much to choose between Crouch, Kuyt and Voronin. The same can be said about Pennant, Kewell and Babel for the wing positions, and Alonso, Lucas and Mascherano for the back of midfield. Lucas possibly ought to be in the starting line up, but you would then have to leave out Mascherano or Gerrard. It’s not hard to see why Benítez has difficulty sticking to a settled team.