The Sweeper: Benitez, Liverpool Deflated

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Today most newspapers are running with the extraordinary pressure on Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool to win their fixture today against Manchester United, a game that Gary Neville recently called Manchester’s “real” derby.  Following last week’s infamous (foot)Ball on (beach)Ball action and a home loss to Lyon in the CL, the fans and press have their fangs out for Liverpool’s big man, and if not for him, then the American whipping boys Gillette and Hicks.

We’ve been here once or twice before, as when Liverpool lost the Champions League to AC Milan in 2007, or last season when they came within four points of winning their first title in eighteen years.  A popular narrative has now emerged, one of an over-controlling micro-manager at odds with his key creative play-makers, prone to making eccentric transfer market deals to fit his strict tactical vision, trying to effect a perfect footballing calculus when sometimes, the most obvious path to winning is as simple as it is effective.

Critics point out that Liverpool have been most successful when forced to abandon Rafa’s controlled, tactical approach in favour of the improvised attacking prowess of the likes say of Steven Gerrard, as against AC Milan three goals down in Istanbul 2005, or coming back against an insolent West Ham in the FA Cup final the following year.

They may have a point, but it is undeniably Rafa’s tactical rigour that has brought Liverpool so close to the summit on repeated occasions only to narrowly miss out.  Perhaps then, should Rafa go, Liverpool fans can take heart: often clubs break through those last, final barriers to success only after the strict disciplinarian tacticians have moved on, as with Stefan Kovacs taking over from Rinus Michels at Ajax in the early seventies, or dare I say it, Bob Paisely winning European Cups in Bill Shankly’s shadow.

Worldwide News

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Richard Whittall writes but does not always live A More Splendid Life.