'Poor attitude, lack of character, limited intelligence' - Rafa's public slating of his team shows the pressure is on at Anfield

Poor attitude, lack of character, limited intelligence.

And if he accuses his players of that publicly, you can only imagine what Rafa Benitez told his Liverpool players in the privacy of the DW Stadium away dressing room.

Watching Benitez' post-match performance on Monday night, it was clear that a whole range of negative emotions were coursing through the Spaniard.

Normally Benitez opts to find positives, or at least an excuse, frequently the officials.

He could have pointed out that Fernando Torres missed at least three chances he might have been expected to put away almost in his sleep, that Steven Gerrard had one of those days, that the Wigan goal came from a combination of errors unlikely to be repeated, and finish by reiterating his bold prediction that Liverpool will finish fourth.

But he chose not to. Not this time.

There were no pretences, no excuses, with the simple admission: "We didn't play well; in the first half we didn't show attitude. Then we worked hard but without intelligence."

Fair play for the honesty and nobody could accuse the Spaniard of delusion or wilfully avoiding the reality.

Indeed, he went further. Asked what went wrong, the response was insightful: "Too many, it's difficult to name just one or two. There were too many.

"We're not happy. We have to show more character if we want to be in the top four. We have to win games but in another way, not like this. If you don't show character or attitude you can't guarantee anything."

Those Liverpool fans watching will have agreed and even his players must accept the manager was right to give vent to his frustrations.

Yet in showing those emotions and opening, however briefly, a window into his mind, Benitez has only served to give more ammunition to the critics.

Even now, the fixtures look kindly for Liverpool to emerge from the four-way battle to claim the final and vital Champions League place.

But Benitez knows that Spurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa all have games in hand and with matches running out, that any more setbacks will ensure his players having to cope with addition pressure and scrutiny at the stage of the season when keeping calm is most important.

Nine defeats in the season already is far too many. Not that in itself it rules out fourth. Indeed, in 2006/07, Liverpool lost 10 games and finished third.

Yet their tally that season of 68 points is the absolute minimum likely to be required for fourth this year and in reality 70 looks like the realistic target.

That means 22 points from the last nine games, seven wins and a draw, allowing for defeat at either Old Trafford or at home to Chelsea.

Not impossible, of course, but the visit to United is looming, under a fortnight away, and should they succumb at Old Trafford - where, of course, they memorably won 4-1 last term - those other "easy" games start to look a lot harder.

Benitez knows it, knows that losing at Wigan was more than just a defeat from a match his players expected to win and at some stage those players do have to start looking at themselves.

Maxi Rodriguez demonstrated why Atletico Madrid were not exactly destitute to wave goodbye to the Argentinian, Kuyt was peripheral at best, Jamie Carragher again hesitant and Gerrard far from influential, while Torres knows he needs to get match-sharp sooner rather than later after his long lay-off.

At the same time, Alberto Aquilani would be forgiven for wanting to fast-forward to the summer, get in a proper pre-season and then show why Benitez believed he was the man to fill Xabi Alonso's boots.

But Liverpool do not have time to feel sorry for themselves. This is the moment when Benitez' players have the onus on them to show they believe in the manager, that they believe in what the club stands for, that  they want it as much as the supporters do.

There were precious few signs of that at the DW Stadium, signified by the stance Benitez took.

The Liverpool hierarchy insist they back the Benitez project, that they know where he wants to go and will ensure the club gets there but for all the claims and counter-claims, fourth place and the Champions League revenue that should bring are key components in the business plan.

Now the squeeze and the pressure are on. Of course, City, Spurs and Villa could wilt under the intensity too, and Liverpool could make it through the back-door.

But the Anfield side should be yanking the front door open and marching through it, not waiting on others to default. Wigan must be a wake-up call for every single member of Benitez' entourage and squad.

No attitude, no character, no intelligence equals unacceptable. It must prove to be exactly that.

Rafa blasts his flops after defeat at Wigan

Wigan Athletic 1-0 Liverpool: The Daily Mirror match report  

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