Liverpool’s win in the Champions League semi-final on Tuesday showed anyone who doubted it that the all-seater Anfield could be as noisy as the old mainly-standing Anfield. Some have said it was even louder. Rafa Benitez had some friends at the ground on Tuesday, and they were certainly impressed: "I had 20 Spanish friends who came to the game against Chelsea and they were delighted with the atmosphere. I read the Spanish newspapers and saw the talk in the Spanish chat-rooms on the internet. People were writing about what an amazing occasion it was, one they would never forget."
Benitez was impressed too: "When I was coach of Valencia, we played Celtic in the UEFA Cup and the atmosphere was great but this was even better. I will never forget this game. It was good on television but when you are in the ground, hearing it, it’s fantastic."
The fact that Liverpool are getting such recognition in Spanish newspapers is brought about thanks to the Spanish clubs all crashing out of the Champions League early, and the fact that Liverpool are managed by Spaniard. Real Madrid are one of the teams that went out the Champions League earlier than expected, and have struggled (by their standards) in the Spanish league. Now the Spanish paper are linking Rafa with the job of looking after the famous Real Madrid. Benitez says he has no intention of leaving, and doesn’t need an improved contract to prove it. He said: "Liverpool fans can rest assured. I am happy here and don’t want to put the club under pressure. Mourinho has his five more years (on his new contract) and good for him, but I am not thinking about my future, just the game against Arsenal."
If Liverpool manage to beat Arsenal on Sunday it will be a change from most other league games this season that followed Champions League games: "The statistics after Champions League games are not good enough. The Premiership has been a disappointment. To lose 10 games away is not normal. We need to improve away from home next season."
Benitez intends to make summer changes to try and bring about league success as soon as possible: "I am not angry. I am hungry! I want to win the final of the Champions League, but I also want to be fighting for first position in the Premiership. I am not happy with the position. We need to change things in the summer – this is when you can control the situation." According to our friends in the papers one of the first moves to be made is to send Gerrard to Real Madrid in a swap deal involving Guti. Not according to Rafa: "Guti is a fantastic player but we are not interested in him. Stevie’s happy. He feels Liverpool in his heart and he wants to win the Champions League.
Rafa sees Liverpool getting into the Champions Leage final as a great way to raise their profile to potential transfer targets: "The final means much more than the money. A player will go ‘OK, Liverpool are in the final of the Champions League, they are a big club’ and he will want to come here."
He also handed out praise to his coaches: "It is not just me, it is about working with my staff. We analyse opponents. We see the videos. We had three days to prepare for the Chelsea game. We will be better prepared for the final because we will have 10 days to prepare. But even if you prepare everything, the detail is not important if Eidur Gudjohnsen scores in the last minute."
Jamie Carragher has rightly earned a lot of praise this season. Rafa is one of those praising him: "Jamie is the best. He is having a fantastic season. He has the spirit and passion that a player from Liverpool needs to have."
Rafa then talked about his early days learning his trade as a football manager: "I am a worker, I have worked in a lot of towns, Extremadura, Valencia, Madrid. I spent time in Italy, learning. I went to Milanello three times, watching Fabio Capello. I watched Marcelo Lippi at Juventus and Claudio Ranieri at Fiorentina."
Benitez has had some criticism this season when they’ve won with defensive formations and tactics, although he’s quick to defend himself: "Sometimes, I decide on a defensive system because it will be better. But I like to score a lot and not concede. It is a balance. In my last season at Valencia, we scored more goals than any team except Real Madrid, who got 71, and we conceded fewer goals than all the teams."
Arsenal next for the Reds, and Rafa doesn’t expect them to be resorting to the long-ball tactics employed in the end by Chelsea on Tuesday. "Arsenal are a team who play very good football, and it is better for us to play against that than when we play against long-ball, very physical teams.
"We have to treat the Arsenal game like a Champions League tie, like the final in fact. It’s difficult but not impossible."