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Sep 20, 2009

Win's the thing but Rafa still searches for answers

So, Rafa Benitez kept Liverpool on the fringes of the title race and staved off any immediate backlash. Both the club and their supporters are demanding far more from their manager in terms of a domestic challenge for honours, notably the title. But the signs are not good. Let's not kid ourselves. West Ham have made their worst start in the league for six years, had only scored three goals prior to this match, but still managed two comebacks against a Liverpool team that continues to show defensive frailties.

Twice the Hammers came back from behind, until Torres finished them off. It was not an impressive display, despite the positive post-match comments from captain and manager. There is plenty of work to be done behind the scenes to get it right.

Benitez made it a hat-trick of wins in the Premiership but he is still searching for answers. One of them is Fernando Torres. He was on fire with his two goals, and if he continues in this vein than Liverpool have hope. But are those hopes slim or realistic?

Benitez made copious amounts of notes, stroked his goatee, and lived on the very edge of his technical area for long periods of a game his team dominated but without really seeing off the Hammers. There is no more committed Liverpool fan than Kevin Keegan. But he is not convinced. Far from it.

As ESPN's studio analyst, Keegan mentioned the lack of strength in depth in comparison to their title rivals, but went into far greater detail about the dysfunctional zonal marking from set pieces.

Astonishingly this season, Liverpool have conceded all nine of their goals against from set pieces. Benitez refuses to switch his defensive system, and when he once tried to, it made it even worse. But it gives opponents encouragement, and makes his team nervous whenever there is a corner.

Before this match, I put forward the scenario, that should Benitez foul up in the title race then the American owners would run out of patience and review his position. I also ventured that Jose Mourinho would be the No.1 choice should that day arrive - of course, it might not - when Benitez is replaced. That caused an almighty debate, and while some thought it might happen, many Liverpool fans have not lost faith in their manager.

Benitez was asked before the game what he wanted from the match at Upon Park and he remarked instantaneously "a win". In the modern game, that is all that counts...winning. How a team wins can almost becomes an irrelevance. But if you look beyond the result, then this was not an impressive Liverpool, and nowhere near the standards of much of last season.

As for West Ham, I did agree with the view that Zola's main task is to keep them away from the relegation dog-fight. But I fear that will be hard to achieve. So, survival will be their priority and Zola will do well to keep them clear of such a nasty struggle. There was one other major talking point for me, and that was the Hammers' two-touch penalty. Did Diamanti touch the ball when he slipped before striking the penalty for a second time? Kevin Keegan made the point that you could have looked at a video ten times and might still not come to the right conclusion, with only the professionals able to assess whether the peculiar flight of the ball was caused by a double hit.

It wouldn't have made such a decision any easier with fourteen refs on the pitch, let alone fourteen. But video playback at least provides the opportunity to re-assess such an important issues on the field.

Benitez was rightly aggrieved because he had seen the TV replay, we were led to believe during commentary. However, didn't the Premier League ban TV monitors from he dug out or its vicinity to avoid managers being able to have a second view, something the referee is deprived of?

Personally, I think Sepp Blatter and his UEFA counterparts have got this wrong. It's time to have video playback seen by a professional in the stands to make a more valid judgement.

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