The fall guy for Liverpool's decline

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

For the first time in a long time, Rafa Benitez achieved something that lifted spirits at Liverpool, even though it came laced with a perverse irony.

The Anfield boss has become the poster boy for all the ills that have led to the destruction of the club's performance and credibility this season, and the saddest thing about the final home game of an awful campaign was that a measure of joy came courtesy of a defeat.

Liverpool's own aspirations died weeks and months ago and that's why it found satisfaction in Sunday's 2-0 home loss to Chelsea, a result that virtually ensured the London club – and not Liverpool's despised rivals Manchester United – will win the English Premier League.

Five years ago, Benitez was lauded as a hero after masterminding an awe-inspiring comeback against AC Milan in the Champions League final to cap off his first season in charge in the most magnificent way. Recent times, though, have led to an utter collapse with Liverpool stuttering from one embarrassment to another.

Benitez likes to blame the lack of financial support from the club's owners, yet the truth is he has spent poorly and been unable to motivate his group sufficiently this season. Even with four years remaining on the Spaniard's contract, it is hard to see him lasting four more weeks at Anfield. And he only has himself to blame.

At no point over the last eight months was Benitez able to instill anything like the kind of consistency needed to challenge for the Premiership title. By the time this sorry season comes to a close next week with a visit to Hull City, Liverpool should find itself more than 20 points off the pace set by Chelsea.

Benitez will meet with club chairman Martin Broughton over the next few days, and the likely outcome will be Benitez's departure. His next stop could very well be Juventus, the fallen Italian giant that has suffered an ugly fate not dissimilar from Liverpool's. Whether he deserves another chance at such a big club is debatable. Some prefer to remember the Benitez of his early Liverpool career rather than the one mired in his current misery.

His future might actually be brighter than Liverpool's.

The search for a new manager won't be as easy as expected for such as prestigious of a club as Liverpool, which has had its problems laid bare on and off the pitch. Anyone who takes on the challenge of Benitez's old position will know better than to expect smooth sailing.

Aston Villa's Martin O'Neill is one realistic option. Though judging from current results, the Irishman might have more glory with Villa right now than he would at Anfield. With Manchester City spending at a frenetic pace and Tottenham enjoying an impressive resurgence, the road back to the top of the English game could be a long and painful one for Liverpool.

Weekend Best XI

1. Get him an Advil

Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti finds his club on the brink of a Serie A-Champions League double, but he knows tumultuous times await him this summer. Jose Mourinho's future as head coach has never been under greater scrutiny, with Real Madrid desperate to make him its next boss. The speculation will rage all summer and there is unlikely to be a swift resolution, meaning Inter and Moratti could be left to complete a frantic late search for a replacement if Mourinho, as expected, decides to move on.

2. Get him a beer

It was just 30 months ago that Steve McClaren's managerial career lay in tatters after being dumped as England boss for failing to qualify for Euro 2008. But McClaren completed a remarkable revival Sunday by leading FC Twente to its first Dutch league crown – and is now poised to take over at German Bundesliga side Wolfsburg.

3. Get them some earplugs

D.C. United, once the pride of MLS, subjected its fans to the lowest point of a dismal season on Saturday by falling 2-0 at home to the New York Red Bulls. That's five league defeats in five games in 2010.

4. Keep an eye on …

Xavi. Barcelona kept rolling towards the La Liga title and remains in control of its destiny despite Real Madrid's dramatic late winner against Osasuna. However, following Barca's 4-1 win at Villarreal, it was revealed that Xavi has a long tear in his thigh that could rule him out of the World Cup. The absence of the Euro 2008 player of the tournament would be sorely felt by Spain.

5. Catch a flight to …

Madrid. The Champions League final on May 22 is shaping up as a mouthwatering battle between Europe's two most in-form teams. Both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan are poised to wrap up their domestic league titles, and each boast a Dutch star (Bayern's Arjen Robben and Inter's Wesley Sneijder) at the peak of his powers.

6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week

45 – The number of cuss words Sir Alex Ferguson will utter in the space of a few seconds if Manchester United's owners try to persuade him to sell Wayne Rooney to Real Madrid this summer.

7. Fond farewell

In theory, the EPL title race is still alive heading into the final weekend, but reality states that this one was put to bed a week early. Chelsea's victory at Liverpool effectively brought down the curtain on a thrilling campaign, and, barring a miracle, snuffed out Manchester United's hopes of a fourth straight title.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Blaise Nkufo. The Switzerland international striker has played his last game for FC Twente and will now link up with ambitious MLS side Seattle Sounders FC.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Charlie Davies. The American striker's brave attempt to get fit in time for the World Cup looks likely to fall just short. Davies is back in full training at Sochaux and has recovered from the injuries he sustained in a car crash last October, but he is unlikely to be called up for the squad's upcoming training camp.

10. Get excited about …

The race for the EPL's fourth Champions League spot. It has been one of the season's most intriguing subplots, and the two remaining contenders go head to head on Wednesday night when Manchester City plays host to Tottenham, which stands just one point ahead of City.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Could Kim Kardashian become the latest addition to the esteemed ranks of soccer's WAGs? Recent reports have linked Kardashian with Cristiano Ronaldo, who is said to have invited her to this summer's World Cup.

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