There have been endless articles, blogs and podcasts espousing shock and bewilderment at Liverpool's lack of form this season. But why?
Liverpool's record in the league over the past 5 years has been one of top 4 mediocrity bar an incredibly surprising title challenge last season. Liverpool have failed to adequately strengthen their squad despite Benitez's longevity at the club whilst teams like Tottenham, Man City and Aston Villa have added impressive squad depth to their ranks. The bottom line is that the Premier League is getting more competitive by the year, largely due to the largesse of Middle Eastern oil barons, American industrialists and business savvy Jews.
Much has been made this week of Gerrard and Torres' absence as a key factor in their Liverpool's defeat to Sunderland and Lyon. But this is a top four team we are talking about, one that pushed Manchester United to the end last season I hear you cry.
Their weaknesses lie in their inability to cope with the lack of availability or lack of form of their main goal scoring threats, Gerrard and Torres. Playing Ngog as a lone striker against Lyon whose inexperience and goal scoring record lay bare Liverpool's lack of options.
Martin Kelly's full debut, although impressive, was a gamble and displayed not only a lack of faith in Martin Skrtel's ability but inadequate cover for Glen Johnson. Insistence on Lucas Leiva who hasn't got the positional awareness of a holding midfielder or the passing range of a deep lying playmaker exposes the folly of Beniez's purchase of Mr. Swarowski aka Alberto Aquilani as a direct replacement for Xabi Alonso.
Not only does it smack of a panic buy akin to losing a good player in Championship Manager and buying the first highly rated player willing to come, he has bought a player that has failed to last a full, injury free season. I bet Benitez wouldn't turn his nose up at having Reo Coker or Pavlyuchenko on their books at the moment as cover.
Blame has to be squarely laid at Benitez's feet. He may whine that the club now needs investment to paper over the cracks, but he must have had a vision for a strong, competetive Liverpool that can compete in League, the Cups and of course the Champions League when he arrived at the club.
Keane has been replaced by the return of Voronin from loan and Babel seems to be used only as a last resort. Benayoun's form this season has been Liverpool's saving grace, with some delicious creative play his ability to find space through intelligent runs has seen him on the scoresheet 4 times this season.
Adding to the lack of goal scoring personnel in Liverpool's squad, the erstwhile strength of its defence has evaporated. Carragher's flaws as a cumbersome and clumsy defender have come through added to Skrtl's loss of confidence and Agger's tendency to get crocked has seen Liverpool concede to often and too easily. How many times have we seen Reina's angst ridden face when he is let down by his defence? Sami Hyypia anyone? This isn't helped by Benitez's insistence on the zonal marking system which seems to make his defence stationary and vulnerable to well worked set piece routines.
This is going to be a season of transition for Liverpool, they are at risk of not qualifying to the next stage in the Champions League or of even being a part of it next season, something that should have happened when Everton pipped them to fourth spot 5 years ago. The team over achieved in the league last season but it is time to revolutionise the squad again. The Benitez system has ultimately failed to provide a team able to win the Premier League, and it is time now for a different approach or Liverpool fans should get used to the Intertoto Cup and signing the new Igor Biscans and Djimi Traore's of this world.