Rafa Benitez has clearly lost faith in Robbie Keane
When Rafa Benitez loses faith in a player it does seem that the player might as well contact his agent and start packing. Robbie Keane, a £20.3m signing from Tottenham last summer seems to have reached that position today in not being considered worthy of a place in the matchday squad of 18 players. Whilst Ryan Babel, Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt got starting berths along with Steven Gerrard in a very attacking line-up - Keane was not considered to be a better option on the bench than the raw David Ngog.
Benitez's pre-match comment that:
"I think Robbie Keane has a future here. I wanted to pick 19 players, but could only have 18."
Is hardly one that demonstrates that Keane has a future - suggesting that Keane is the 19th pick for a domestic cup game (hardly Liverpool's top priority) is not a ringing endorsement.
Whether Keane can come back from this situation is a difficult question. The front six of the side appears to be settled, with Riera or Babel on one side; Kuyt or Benayoun on the other and Gerrard supporting Torres through the middle. If Ngog is ahead of Keane as first drop then only a crisis of injury or form can get Keane a chance to redeem himself. But last month, Dirk Kuyt was often getting the lone striker role when Torres was unfit.
It seems that Benitez wanted to play with two conventional strikers at the start of the season, but has since confirmed the suspicion that Gerrard and Torres are such a potent partnership that Keane is superfluous. Even in the games that Keane plays in the other Liverpool players seem unsure about passing to the Irishman, Keane is so often flapping his arms in frustration that you wonder if he might actually take off. All of which suggests that he will be shipped out in the summer.
Other players have gone from being favourites to completely off the radar; Jermaine Pennant left for Portsmouth complaining that he was getting no games. This season he got four games for Liverpool - the last in October; compared to 25 the season before. Peter Crouch left in 2008 (oddly also for Portsmouth) after a season spent largely coming off the substitutes bench - but in previous seasons he was pivotal.
One player that has recovered under Benitez is Xabi Alonso who was slated for transfer in the summer, just as soon as Gareth Barry was signed from Aston Villa. But to Liverpool's benefit that deal fell through and perhaps re-motivated, the Spaniard is enjoying his best season for the Reds.
Martin Keown asked on 5 live earlier 'Has he [Keane] played his last game for the club?' - that seems a bit strong. But unless Keane can perform some extraordinary feats on the training ground his dream move is probably not going to last more than one season. Only one question really, do Tottenham need a striker?