Rafa hopes ref is ready to deal with self-confessed cheat

Straight after Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Spurs at White Hart Lane on Saturday Rafael Benítez was thinking about the next game. And the next game was against the side Rafael Benítez clearly dislikes most out of all the teams in this country, Bolton Wanderers. Tottenham had tried to get back into the game using tactics that Rafael Benítez said reminded him of the Trotters: “They pushed us a lot with long balls; in fact the way they played should prepare us quite well for the Bolton game on Monday.”

And so it begins. Bolton – both the club and its supporters – love the fact that their physical style and tendency to bend the rules upsets other teams and fans. They love to see Rafa bite and launch his criticisms of them. They don’t really care that they are turning into a new version of Wimbledon, without the bit of love Wimbledon used to get from those who love the underdog.

Rafa is most concerned that today’s referee, Graham Poll, is on the ball and aware from the start of how Bolton will be playing: “Bolton have their style, they have played it for years and they know what they are doing,” says Rafa. Each player or team has an idea of how they want to win, but the rules are the same for everyone. It is up to my players to show character. We have players who can deal with it but a lot depends on the experience of the referee.”

Something Rafa has been annoyed with for some time is the way that
goalkeepers are offered less protection in England than on the
continent. In his eyes, Bolton are one of the worst at this: “It
happens at all the set-pieces. Pepe is really good in the air, but I
have seen two or three players around the keeper sometimes trying to
block him. This is a foul – it's a direct free kick, simple as that. It
is up to the referee to be aware of this and to say it's a foul because
the rules are for everybody. Then maybe it's easier to play football.
They could not play this way in Spain. Every free-kick, every corner,
every throw-in would be a foul. But in England referees allow it and
they take advantage of all these things.”

As well as trying to warn the referee to be on his guard, Rafa is also
hoping his own team are able to stand up to it: “It is up to my players
to show character. We have players who can deal with it but a lot
depends on the experience of the referee. So we need a strong official
to be aware of all the blocks they make and the players who are diving.
Graham Poll is a very experienced referee and, for me, he is OK, but he
must be aware of these things.”

Two former Liverpool players are likely to start up front for Bolton,
one of whom Rafa admires and one who nobody at Anfield likes. Nicolas
Anelka looked set to be made a Red permanently after a good six-month
loan spell, but for reasons we may never fully understand, the boss at
that time Gerard Houllier decided that El Hadji Diouf was a much better
option. Anelka was ditched and instead we wasted £10m on the serial
spitter and self-confessed cheat Diouf. Rafa says of the two: “Diouf
and Anelka are good players but one of them is really proud of diving
and I don't like this. If we are killing players who dive I cannot
support it when someone comes out and says he is proud to dive because
it is good for him and for his team. Once again it all depends on the
referee to be aware of this.”

Rafa is referring to comments made last year by Diouf admitting he was
a cheat, claiming it was clever of him to dive. Diouf said at the time:
“Every player dives, not just me. If you see Rooney, how many times
does he dive to try and get a penalty? It’s just because it’s me that
people talk about it. Sometimes when I need to dive to get a penalty
it’s because the best footballer is a footballer who is very clever. I
don’t leave my foot there so the guy can break my leg. I need to dive
before the guy comes in. Sometimes the ref gives me a free kick,
sometimes he doesn’t, but how many penalties have I won by doing that?
That’s just football.” No that’s just cheating Mr Diouf, and nothing to
proud of. Like the spitting.

His team-mate Nicolas Anelka is likely to get a warmer welcome at
Anfield, at least before the game, from supporters wondering how much
better off Liverpool would have been had Houllier not made his strange
transfer choices that summer. Anelka is looking forward to the game,
both for the welcome he hopes to get and for the fact he’s not done
badly when he’s gone back to Anfield: “The Kop applaud me and know I
wanted to stay. I would no doubt be at Liverpool now if Gerard Houllier
had taken up the option to buy me. Everything about them fascinates me;
the team, the very British stadium, the fans, the city, the red of
their shirts, and I was flattered by what Stevie Gerrard said about me
in his book. He is a player who can do everything on the field. Going
back to Anfield always gives me a thrill and I do have success on the
pitch. I have scored three times there with Manchester City.” Anelka
must feel ashamed at times that he’s playing alongside someone with the
reputation Diouf has, in a team where his cheating is encouraged.

Gerrard’s comments in his book don’t just praise Anelka, but point out how Diouf’s attitude was a disgrace.

Gerrard is friends off the field with Bolton’s scouse midfielder Kevin
Nolan, who is also proud of the way Bolton play football in a way
Liverpool fans would be embarrassed to see.  Bolton are on a bit of a
winning run but Liverpool are unbeaten in 26 league games at home (22
wins and 4 draws), something which Nolan admits will make it a tough
match: “I think Liverpool are unbeaten at Anfield in 26 games, so it is
a hell of a tough ask to keep the winning run going, but records are
there to be broken and a run like we've had gives you an extra buzz.
We'll go there and give it a real lash. There is going to be a lot of
banter between me and my mates because we are above Liverpool. It's
going to be nice going there in the position we are in, particularly
because we are so far through the season, but hopefully we can go and
do the business, because I'd be happy to see this run go on for a bit

He went on: “The character we have been showing comes right down from
the staff and the gaffer, but we just can't keep going 1-0 down because
there will be times that we can't get back. The early goals gave us a
kick up the backside because we have come back the last couple of
times. But we need to start quicker and going a goal up ourselves
because we know that once we score, we rarely get beaten.”

Bolton’s manager Sam Allardyce has sent the BBC to Coventry after they
accused him of dodgy dealings on their Panorama programme, but he does
like to make himself heard to other media outlets. He says Liverpool
have been lucky to beat his side thanks to their dodgy tactics: “It's
well documented that they don't like the way we play, but they have
been very lucky over the past few seasons by beating us 1-0.” After
Bolton beat Newcastle on Boxing Day Allardyce admitted his side had
roughed up their opponents, who’d tried the same physical approach in
an attempt to win. Nobody is as experienced at the heavy-handed
physical game as Bolton are though, and Newcastle lost: “We squeezed
them into submission really. They came to physically challenge us
because they thought that might work and it didn't. Newcastle had
decided to close us down as quickly as possible and wanted to get their
tackles in. That upset us for a while and they were using the ball
better than we were. In the end, we ran them into the ground.”

Laughably, Allardyce complained at the treatment his chief cheat had
been subjected to: “I'll put it kindly – the physical contacts against
him, some of the tackles were way over the top today and he got himself
up, brushed himself off and carried on running at them and that's a
very brave player.” How officials are supposed to be able to tell
whether he’s actually had any contact or not or whether he was diving
is anyone’s guess. And his admission surely must take away any benefit
of the doubt he had somehow managed to gain previously. Bolton are
proud of their cheat, their fans like to sing: “He drinks, he dives, he
spits in people’s eyes, El Hadji Diouf.”

Another of Bolton’s hated figures as far as Liverpool supporters are
concerned is Gary Speed, but that’s mainly due to his blue past. His
glowing praise for Bolton’s better striker is a warning to Liverpool’s
defenders to be on their guard: “You can see the confidence in his
game. He is enjoying doing what he does best. His pace will always make
him a threat, but his goal and the one against Newcastle were typical
poacher's goals. But there's also another side to his game, you can see
how hard he is working for the team. The way he tackled back to win the
ball and set up the corner for our first goal was a perfect example.”

If Anelka wins corners today, and the referee lets Bolton get away with
their rule-bending pressure in the box, Liverpool could suffer once
again at the hands of Rafa’s least favourite team in England.

* The match kicks off at 12.45pm GMT, an early kick-off for the benefit of Sky TV.