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Liverpool sink further into the mire

No beach ball farce, but the tide has not turned at Anfield. Far from it. In fact, Rafa Benitez seems trapped in sand, quick sand. He is sinking fast.

• Richard Jolly: Problems mounting at Anfield
• Liverpool 1-2 Lyon: Super subs seal Lyon win
• Benitez insists Gerrard selection was no gamble

Four straight defeats is Liverpool's worst run for 22 years! Captain Jamie Carragher put on a brave face afterwards, but this is now officially a crisis. A much over used word in football; but there is a genuine one enveloping Anfield.

Manchester United are up next at Anfield. Is it the right game to get Liverpool out of their present critical stage, or yet another nightmare with the club stuck in eighth place in a Premier League table that exposes the team's problems in trying to qualify again for the Champions League next season? Have they ever needed a win over United more than they do now?

If you ask me, I'd say the confrontation with Manchester United will fill Anfield with even more trepidation; another major obstacle to any hope of an immediate recovery. It would be a major shock now if Liverpool beat the league leaders. Possible, of course, as you can never write-off Liverpool, particularly when their backs are against the wall. But not with confidence so low at Anfield, and without two match winners in Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

Benitez desperately needs Torres back to lead the attack, but my guess is that Gerrard is going to need a rest cure for that troublesome groin before he ends up needing surgery.

A smattering of boos greeted the final whistle after a defeat that puts Liverpool's chances of qualification to the knock-out stages in peril, and yet Liverpool's are the most supportive of supporters. But their patience cannot be limitless and it must now be growing thin. Benitez shook his head in disbelief on the touchline. There doesn't seem to be an immediate answer and that is most worrying.

It just gets worse and worse. Stevie G lasted just 25 minutes before trooping off with a renewed groin complaint. The initial 'word' is that the injury is just a precaution but I doubt it. It is clearly far more worrying than anyone is letting on. Clearly, Gerrard felt a problem with his groin and he knew he couldn't continue. It was a risk to put him out there, and emphasised the urgency of Liverpool's position, already without Torres.

While the 'word' again suggested Gerrard will be ready for Sunday's clash with United, again I doubt whether the club can take another big risk with such a vital player.

I am sure Fabio Capello will be just as worried. We all should be. Gerrard is so important to England's World Cup cause, and there could be some lasting damage if he is continually risked in this way.

Even a rare positive to be taken the game - the impressive full debut of local boy Martin Kelly - was tarnished as the Under-20 international was removed after suffering an injury during the pin-ball equaliser.

As for this Champions League tie, there was always a nagging feeling that Lyon would win at Anfield. You could sense the nervousness, the edginess, the lack of confidence as Liverpool started so tentatively.

When Benayoun scored just before half-time it was a huge relief, but it also lifted everyone - the crowd and the entire team, and there was a feeling that the team had to be united with Gerrard going off. But whatever Benitez said to his players at half-time, they came out like the away side, while Lyon went out believing they could win it, and they did.

An equaliser came from emergency centre-half Maxime Gonalons and the winner from substitute César Delgado, one of the few players Diego Maradona hasn't picked for Argentina, although he has won his fair share of caps and is still a classy performer.

Lyon's first win over English opposition in the Champions League has left Liverpool in dire straights in the group, with a real chance of failing to qualify.

And as I had been pointing out before the game, those who know the club's financial frailties are fully aware that without the £30 million Champions League cash next season there are huge concerns about the interest repayments to the banks.

On all levels the crisis engulfing Anfield couldn't possibly be much worse. Or could it? We shall find out on Sunday in what must now rank as one of the most important games between Liverpool and Manchester United in modern times.


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