Rafa waits for chance to finally speak to owners

The future of Rafael Benitez as Liverpool manager is still up in the air, with claims of a thaw in relations seeming to be still some way short of the truth.

The owners know, unless they are extremely stupid, that sacking Rafa at the moment would bring an end to their days of sitting in the stands at Anfield wearing Liverpool scarves and pretending to care about the club. If either of them do care about the club, their support for Rafa needs to be made public this week, before the Manchester United game if possible. The chances of them caring for the club the way Liverpool supporters do are slim, given their admitted lack of knowledge about the sport itself, but they obviously care about their “investment”. The issue now seems to be whether the owners, Hicks especially, have it in them to reconsider their reported earlier stance regarding Rafa, or if their stubbornness will mean Rafa goes regardless of how he does on the pitch. Continue reading Rafa waits for chance to finally speak to owners

Rafa: I am very happy at Liverpool

In an interview with Spanish publication AS, Rafa Benitez told Miguel Á. Vara about his pride at getting through to the knockout phase of the Champions League, and his gratitude for the support the fans have shown him.

First of all, congratulations on beating Marseille.

It was a victory we very much needed and means we continue in a competition we like and people can celebrate. For what we experienced at the airport it is worth the effort.

What happened?

As always, many fans travelled to support us and on the way home we were at the airport at the same time. They began to sing and jump and then the police didn’t know what to do because they wanted to come to me to greet me!  They asked me what they should do and I told them nothing; they let them approach me and they began singing to me that I am not leaving and they embraced me.

Do you feel the people’s coach?

I am the Liverpool coach and I say this with much pride.

But in recent weeks the fans have been massive in their defence of you…

The Liverpool fans, above all, appreciate and acknowledge the history of the past three years when the team came from a situation of ostracism. I think they have all very much appreciated that and every day I feel their affection more. Continue reading Rafa: I am very happy at Liverpool

Stevie’s home burgled with Alex at home

Steven Gerrard with wife Alex CurranAnother home of a Liverpool footballer has been burgled when the player has been on playing duty away from Anfield – but this time the crime was all the more shocking because the player’s house wasn’t empty.

Steven Gerrard’s wife, Alex Curran, was at home when their mansion was invaded by four masked men. The balaclava-clad thieves kicked the door in just before 9.30pm, then stole items of jewellery believed to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Thankfully Alex is said to be unharmed but is obviously shaken. No information has been released as to whether the couple’s two children, Lily-Ella and Lexie, were in the house at the time.

Continue reading Stevie’s home burgled with Alex at home

Rafa reflects on “amazing performance”

Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition of Marseille confirmed their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League and also that manager Rafael Benitez was the person to take Liverpool onto more silverware.

Before that happens the club’s current owners and self-proclaimed “custodians” need to back him, both by coming out and saying there are no plans to sack him, and by allowing him to complete the deals he’d started negotiating before Tom Hicks got heavy-handed in the press. Those deals would have cost the club nothing in terms of actual expenditure, given that Rafa was also negotiating sales, but the owners blocked them all, unwilling to even discuss them until this week.

After the 4-0 win, and as always, Rafa acknowledged the part the supporters always play in Liverpool’s results: “I am really proud of the players and the supporters. It was an amazing performance from everyone concerned with Liverpool.  The players had the right mentality. The key was they were really focused on the game. We scored an early goal and afterwards we controlled nearly everything.” Continue reading Rafa reflects on “amazing performance”

Through to the last 16: Liverpool win 4-0

UEFA Champions League Group A – Result

Tuesday December 11th 2007

Marseille 0 Liverpool 4

marseille-0-liverpool-4.jpgTom Hicks will find it harder to sack Rafael Benitez as Liverpool qualified in style for the knockout phase of the Champions League. Liverpool knew that a win in Marseille was the only way they could guarantee qualification, and with Porto beating Besiktas that proved to be the case. Rafa sent his players out telling them to treat it as a final – and they did.

The only time Liverpool fans were really worried was for the split second that passed between Mandana saving Gerrard’s penalty and Gerrard smashing the rebound into the net. That was after 4 minutes, and considering Marseille should have been a man short after the professional foul that led to the penalty Marseille were perhaps lucky that they went in at half-time only 2-0 down.
Continue reading Through to the last 16: Liverpool win 4-0

Marseilles v Reds – Team news

It’s undoubtedly a big match – but how big it is remains to be seen. It’s a must-win if Liverpool want to go through to the next stage of the Champions League, a draw would only be enough if Besiktas were unlikely winners over Portugal.

It’s the last game of Group A in the Champions League in Marseille and Rafa has selected Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt in attack. It being what Rafa has called a “final”, it’s no surprise to see Harry Kewell make a start on the left wing. Yossi Benayoun is on the right, with Gerrard and Mascherano in the centre of midfield.

Former Red Bolo Zenden starts for Marseille, but fellow former Liverpool player Djibril Cisse has to be content with a place on the bench.

Marseille: 30 Mandanda, 24 Bonnart, 4 Rodriguez, 32 Givet, 3 Taiwo, 7 Cheyrou, 6 Ziani, 10 Zenden, 19 Cana, 28 Valbuena, 11 Niang
Subs: 40 Mate, 5 Faty, 8 Oruma, 9 Cisse, 15 Zubar, 17 M’Bami, 22 Nasri

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher, 4 Hyypia, 6 Riise, 7 Kewell, 20 Mascherano, 8 Gerrard, 11 Benayoun, 18 Kuyt, 9 Torres
Subs: 30 Itandje, 3 Finnan, 12 Aurelio, 15 Crouch, 19 Babel, 21 Lucas, 46 Hobbs

Referee: Terje Hauge terje_hauge.jpg

Rafa confident but prepared for tough game

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez knows the result of tonight’s Champions League fixture with Marseilles could decide his future for him. Liverpool have to win to be sure of getting through to the next stage of the competition, and without doing so the club’s current owners could decide to carry out their alleged threat to sack the popular Spaniard.

Watching tonight’s game will be one of those co-owners, George Gillett Junior. He was due to arrive in Europe later in the week in time for the Manchester United game, but instead found time to travel a little earlier. He’s expected to meet with Rafa in France.

Speaking at the press conference yesterday, Rafa joked about Gillett’s presence when asked if it would make a difference to his plans: “No. He is not available for tomorrow so it’s not a big difference for my team selection!”

Some Liverpool supporters made their minds up some time ago, for various reasons, that Rafa wasn’t the man for the job at Anfield. Many fans have their moments of criticism for the manager, usually in hindsight, but the vast majority of Liverpool supporters trust in him as the only man who can bring us silverware, in particular the league title. After losing on Saturday the press had a field day in their criticism of the coach, but Rafa says he only knows about this because of what he’s been told by others. And he says he doesn’t feel under extra pressure as a result: “We have lost one game, same as Arsenal, so I was surprised by the reaction after the weekend. I haven’t read any of the press reports, listened to the radio or watched the TV, but I have been told.” Continue reading Rafa confident but prepared for tough game

The king meets the kid

kenny-and-torres.jpgIn a wonderful article for the Times, Reds legend Kenny Dalglish met current star – and legend in the making – Fernando Torres.

It’s well worth a read, and as always it’s good to hear from the great man again. The article discusses the similarities between the pair, but ends with a message from Kenny to Fernando that the current owners could also do with having a listen to.

Kenny said: “Fernando, this is a special club with special fans.  They love people who love to wear their shirt. But they’re not daft, they know when it’s real and when it’s just for show, kissing the badge and all that. They love to identify with people on the pitch. And I think they will identify with you very, very easily.”

Full article available here.

dalglish-torres.jpg

Rafa prepares players for “Final”

Liverpool’s first defeat of the season saw some of manager Rafael Benitez’s old critics reappearing from wherever they were hiding during Liverpool’s run of winning games in all competitions, a run that saw them scoring twenty-one goals with just one in reply. The critics were out because he’d changed formation and made some changes. The fact he used different formations and personnel through that run of victories was conveniently ignored.

Sami Hyypia was rested because Rafa felt he was too tired, at 34, to play yet another successive game, a situation forced on Rafa due to the injury to Daniel Agger and the lack of experienced cover. Rafa chose to give Jack Hobbs his first start instead. As well as resting certain players, another of Rafa’s decisions that was criticised was his substitutions – replacing Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher despite being behind. Torres was also replaced as a precaution.

Rafa explained that the players he replaced the trio with were capable of creating chances and scoring goals, and that he was considering the next game too, his must-win tie against Marseilles. Pressure from the owners, who are still to deny the story they will be sacking Rafa before the summer, sees the boss under more pressure than he should be. He no doubt feels failure to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament would give the owners the excuse they’re waiting for to sack him.

The Spaniard said: “The players are not happy because we have lost but they know I have to make these decisions and they understand why. What was clear was that some players were tired. We knew that. But we couldn’t change 11 players so we were trying to protect players who were at risk. We knew it would be a difficult game at Reading and wanted to change some players because we knew they were tired and it could be a risk. The pitch was heavy, but 3-1 down and time running out I thought we needed fresh legs and to protect our key players. If we are fit and have fresh legs then maybe in the last 10 minutes we will score the winning goal in Marseille.”

As Rafa says, when he makes a decision he does it for what he feels is the right reason: “When you take decisions it is because you believe it is the best. In this case, I was trying to protect the players. I know Steven wants to play to the end of every game, the same with Carra and Torres, but I needed to think about whether I could change things in the game and, if it’s difficult to do that, I start thinking about the next one. Some of our players have been playing a lot of games in a row. Sami Hyypia is 34 years old now and was really tired, so as a manager you need to make decisions because you know your players. I was thinking about what is best for my players.”

As for the formation, Rafa pointed out how easy it is to criticise in hindsight, but that he has used this formation successfully recently: “Sometimes it is easy to talk about this after the game but at Newcastle we played the same system and everyone was saying what a fantastic team we were. Against Everton in the first half an hour it was the same – we were much better than them – so sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

The inexperienced referee and his assistants had a poor game, but despite that Rafa still felt they could have got a result had they taken the chances they made for themselves: “I am not happy with the decisions but we didn’t take our chances and that was maybe the key. We had a lot of confidence before the game. I think that the key in this kind of game is to take your chance against opposition that has a very good team spirit, pressed and played a physical game. We needed to move the ball, pass the ball and take our chances and it would have been easier for us, but we couldn’t do it.”

For the Reading manager Steve Coppell it was one of his biggest games of the season, against the club he supported as a boy. He put a lot of thought into how to play the game and felt it paid off: “We were talking the day before the game about Gerrard maybe coming from a wider area, which obviously makes them a sort of ‘thin’ team, if you know what I mean. They were thin and we tried to play with width. That was the contrast and the way we set up against teams who bulk up the middle. Obviously with players who are being asked to play wide they are not comfortable there. They forever keep making the pitch thin and we just tried to turn that round by attacking down the flanks as much as possible.”

Next up for Liverpool is that match in Marseilles, which is expected to be watched by co-owner George Gillett, who’s been very quiet during the rows at the club between owner and manager. He was due over in Europe before the weekend so that he could take in the Manchester United game, but is now believed to be ready to attend his second game of the season.

Rafa says the match is like a final, something he’s quite familiar with: “We have experience of finals so we will do the same thing we were doing before. It is an important game but the players have experience of those. Since I have been here we have been in seven finals. We have won four so we have enough experience and quality in the squad to win.”

He also recalls two big games close together when he was a manager in Spain: “We played one Saturday for Valencia to win the league and then on the Thursday to win the UEFA Cup. We won both so I like to be in this sort of situation because it means you are playing for something. We have confidence that we can do it.”

If Tom Hicks sticks to his guns and does what he has been reportedly threatening to do, this could yet prove to a final in another way for Rafa – his final game as boss.

The players are flying out this morning.

Result: Reading 3 Liverpool 1

Premier League, 8th December 2007 – Result

Reading 3 Liverpool 1

Reading: 1 Hahnemann, 2 Murty (4 Cisse, 90), 5 Sonko (22 Bikey, 81), 16 Ingimarsson, 3 Shorey, 10 Hunt, 15 Harper, 6 Gunnarsson, 17 Convey (8 Lita, 88), 9 Doyle, 12 Kitson
Unused subs: 32 Federici, 24 Long
Goals: Hunt 17 (pen) Doyle 60 Harper 67

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher (4 Hyypia, 82), 46 Hobbs, 6 Riise, 8 Gerrard (19 Babel 71), 20 Mascherano, 22 Sissoko, 10 Voronin, 9 Torres (7 Kewell, 61), 15 Crouch
Unused subs: 30 Itandje, 18 Kuyt
Goals: Gerrard 28
Bookings: Gerrard 59

Referee: Andre Marriner

Att: 24,022