Rafa Benitez looked back on yesterday’s win over Villa with pride, but refused to say if he’d put out his best team: “I knew it was a good team because we had balance. My best team? Maybe, but I am careful saying that because of the headlines.” The headlines include those caused by the director who sold his soul to the Mirror on Friday in an anonymous attack on the manager that could so easily have cost us dear. It may well do so yet because Rafa won’t stand for that kind of thing for ever – only time will tell.
Rafa always wants to be able to put out a good side full of players who are fit to play, and always looks for balance. This team managed that he says: “It was a good team because we had balance, we had Xabi and Momo in the middle, and Stevie who has such power. Luis is clever and Peter can hold the ball. It means you can win the ball, you can win it in the air and we have the skills to play 'between the lines'. We are looking for the balance, this was close. We played well.”
So would he keep the same team for the next match, which is three days after this one? No, he’ll be making more changes, but that’s his choice: “The question is to have different possibilities. Is it possible to keep the same team next time, I don't know. We play next only on Tuesday, it is impossible to have all the players fit. Will there be changes again, sure, you must do it because the problems are clear.”
Some critics have spoken about how rotating his players might work in Spain but won’t work here, but he says that the fact he’s having to find players for two games a week means he has to allow players time off: “If I put the same team out every game it would only be possible if we were playing one game a week. It would be the same as when I was coaching the youth teams at Real Madrid, you could use the same team then, but that was only one game a week. This is so different with two games a week for so long.”
He continued: “You cannot use the same players two games a week. I might be able to use the same team for a month, but after that the players will be tired and injured. You must protect your players, to make sure they are in the best condition to play a match.”
One thing for sure is that most Reds and the influential members of the board think Rafa is the right man for the job, and if he says rotation is necessary they’ve no reason to disbelieve him. It was a rotated team that won 3-1 yesterday.