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Benitez and Scolari face vital test

Phil McNulty | 10:39 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Liverpool co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks land at Anfield on Sunday amid heavy turbulence - even by the rocky standards of the Rafael Benitez regime.

And if they glance behind them in the directors' box they will see, if he is in attendance, another Premier League power broker who has enjoyed happier times, namely Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Meanwhile, just along the M62 on Saturday evening, Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United have it within their power to ensure the trio shift even more uncomfortably in their seats on what could be a pivotal Premier League weekend.

If Ferguson's team beat Everton, it will put them five points clear at the top and conceivably make the encounter at Anfield a must-win for Benitez and his Chelsea counterpart Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Hicks and Gillett are in town to sort out a variety of political and footballing matters that have have provided a permanent backdrop to Anfield events in recent weeks.

They want to sort out Benitez's contract impasse, his future relationship with chief executive Rick Parry, perhaps inquire (as hard-headed businessman) why an asset they paid £20m for in the shape of Robbie Keane lies so idle for so long, and maybe even find some common ground on the future ownership and direction of the club.

After that little lot, taking in a spot of football against Chelsea may come as a blessed relief - but there is no doubt the stakes are getting higher for both clubs.

Benitez was not being complimentary when he bracketed Everton with Extramadura, the
lowly Spanish minnows he once coached, after they produced a superb defensive display to frustrate Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round at Anfield last Sunday.

So there is no little irony in the fact that Benitez might almost be in the mood to shower bouquets upon Everton manager David Moyes if his team can perform a similar trick at Old Trafford.

The odds are against it. United are not gripped by Liverpool's caution and the smart money will be on Benitez and Scolari being five points off the pace by kick-off time on Sunday.

In those circumstances, would a draw at Anfield even suit Chelsea, let alone Liverpool?

Four points behind United having played a game more would leave the Premier League title race starting to have a faint whiff of inevitability about it.

Victory is essential for both sides. A share of the spoils and Sir Alex will enjoy his traditional glass of red even more on Sunday night.

Benitez and Scolari have been contrasting figures during Manchester United's revival that has taken them back to the Premier League summit.

Liverpool's manager has declared war on all fronts. He has attacked Ferguson, Premier League officials, the fixture list, Everton's tactics and seemingly unknown "crazy" forces in the damaging draw at Wigan.

Rafa Benitez, Luis Felipe Scolari

Scolari, in contrast, has retreated somewhat from the public gaze, pushing forward Ray Wilkins to do his talking with greater regularity as Chelsea regroup following their harrowing defeat at Manchester United.

Both managers have faced searching questions from their own fans, even Benitez, for whom many Liverpool fans have unswerving loyalty.

Benitez, even before his cryptic post-match efforts at the JJB Stadium, did not help his cause during a 90 minutes that underscored many of the doubts harboured about Liverpool and their manager.

The persistence with the limited Lucas in central midfield ahead of Xabi Alonso appears to owe almost as much to stubborness as sound logic. The accident waiting to happen finally came to pass when he needlessly fouled Jason Koumas to give away a late penalty that cost Liverpool victory.

And, to the rare sound of jeers from his own supporters, Benitez then removed captain Steven Gerrard after Mido scored from the spot.

With all due respect to Benitez's undoubtedly superior grasp of football's finer points, I will not live long enough to work out why he thought that a wise decision.

I have watched Liverpool on several occasions recently, and to remove Gerrard would have been to cut out the heart of the team.

The suggestion that Gerrard was tired - too tired to last another potentially vital six minutes? - was, to put it kindly, strange. Gerrard, one suspects, would have found the energy to disagree.

It may also be, however, time to put Liverpool's recent political and footballing troubles in a more generous context.

Benitez has a habit of coming out of such difficulties by engineering a crucial win, such as against Inter Milan in the Champions League last season. He was also being questioned with vigour during his first season at Liverpool, a campaign that ended with a Champions League triumph.

Liverpool, just to add a little weight to Benitez's side of the argument, have lost only once in the league this season, in almost laughable circumstances at Spurs, and are eight points up on their tally this time last term.

Too many draws have been their undoing. Liverpool remain devilishly hard to beat, which is why they have every chance of making their usual progress in Europe.

So all is not lost providing Benitez can go against his most cautious instincts and release some of the shackles on an undoubtedly talented group of individuals.

He will need to do so if Manchester United prove more adept at piercing Everton's iron defence than Liverpool did last Sunday.

If he is too cautious against Chelsea, it could be the catalyst for a fatal blow to Liverpool's hopes of winning the title.

Chelsea's own aspirations were put into sharp focus by an uncharacteristic mauling at Old Trafford. It was a grim sight to witness in the flesh a Chelsea side without the mettle that has carried them so far so successfully in recent seasons.

They could not even count on the most consistent of their forces that day. The defence that has fashioned so many famous victories looked vulnerable, especially down the centre at set-pieces.

Chelsea looked like a team that had grown too old together. They had the appearance of players at the end of great successes rather than at the start of conquering new horizons. Was Scolari himself ill-suited for the unique demands the Premier League places on coaches?

Scolari, however, will be heartened by Chelsea's response and perhaps inspired after being comprehensively outwitted by Benitez when Liverpool finally ended their long unbeaten home record in the league earlie this season.

It has not been spectacular, but they have had four straight victories in the Premier League and the FA Cup.

And doubts about spirit and divisions in the camp may have been swept away by the manner in which they rallied in the closing seconds to beat Stoke City, and the style in which Frank Lampard pointedly celebrated his late winner with Scolari.

It has been solid rather than stylish, but the ship is steady once more and talk of Abramovich losing interest in one of his pet projects has also been swiftly kicked into touch.

A visit to Anfield, however, especially an Anfield harbouring a sense of "them against us", is always a tough assignment and Chelsea's record against teams seen as their closest rivals is unimpressive this season.

Scolari and Benitez will watch events at Old Trafford with keen interest on Saturday night. Everton have remained undefeated in games against United, Chelsea, Liverpool twice and Arsenal as their improvement has continued.

They will hope, with equal fervour, that United's recent golden run will be halted.

If it is not, it may well be a case of fortune favouring the bravest manager at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.

Comments

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  • 1. At 2:23pm on 30 Jan 2009, lynnfc wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 2. At 2:28pm on 30 Jan 2009, Sryil_the_Sponge wrote:

    If the inevitable happens and Man Utd beat Everton then hopefully both Benitez and Scolari will go all out for the win, however I doubt this very much and it will end up a bore draw. As a Chelsea fan I hope Scolari goes for it as the draw will suit no one apart from Villa and Utd. Must win game for all involved because who ever loses is effectively out of the title.

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  • 3. At 2:34pm on 30 Jan 2009, dandolinho wrote:

    well, having watched gerrard against wigan, he didnt really seem up to it, n i kno u can never count him out. i remember last season aagainst everton he did the same, took off gerrard, that time for lucas, the shot of the 'fan' screaming 'u dont have a clue' sticks in my mind still... n i think phil will remember it, lucas... shot, great save... by neville (lol) and a penalty (yeah another) n game won.. point being his change was justified.. didnt work out this time.. n partly coz we seriosly do look like we are in a slump

    in reference to the united game coming up for liverpool, i think no matter wot that game is still a must win, even if it is away... united look like they aint gonna drop points, n we cant rely on them to drop them, so we are going to have to TRY and take them off them.. fates in our hands that day as it is on sunday

    hoping the game on sunday actually puts some belief bk into this squad

    i have a feeling that when rafa mentioned all the 'crazy' in the last match (wigan), baring in mind he also mentioned (but convieniently overlooked) that he knows what it was but 'doesnt want to say in an interview', that the team itself seem to b scarred of pushing forward incase they conceded, whichis frustrating rafa no end (i kno he is cautious anyway) but wen it gets to 10 mins n he still cant get the team to go forward with conviction he then make sthe defensive subs to 'stop the rot'

    ok so 1. i kno he should b convaying this message better, if he cant make the team attack then who can n 2. it aint stopped the rot (:P) but alot needs to be placed upon the players too, they need to step up n fight too

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  • 4. At 2:34pm on 30 Jan 2009, Obaydah Al-Namer wrote:

    2nd comment

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  • 5. At 2:45pm on 30 Jan 2009, Hargo A Go Go wrote:

    As a United fan I am very nervous about this Everton match. They just seem to find a way not to lose. Our defence will have to be very focused on set pieces as this is one of their strong points but with Rio and Nemanja reunited it shouldn't be too diffiult (I hope). Berba's on fire and my money is on him to score tomorrow and if this is inside the first 15 minutes, we will go for the juggular unlike Rafa and it could be 3 - 0. If we leave ti late i'll go nuts. The showdown at Anfield will be a draw (I hope once more) and this could spell the end of a title challenge for both these teams. Finfer crossed it plays out this way.

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  • 6. At 2:47pm on 30 Jan 2009, excitedmanutd wrote:

    The thing with Man Utd is that they care more about their own results to see them through the season and rarely rely on how other teams do.

    Of course, if the other teams in the "top four" are dropping points, all the better.

    Everton are a tough team to break down, so we could see a draw at OT this Saturday, or maybe just a scrappy 1-0 to United, who have a habit of playing badly after really thrashing a team the match before.

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  • 7. At 2:49pm on 30 Jan 2009, ZEUSFC wrote:

    sorry EL-liverbird, but you can't count!

    funny but no mention of MON as possibly the only real challenger to SAF this season... them villans are creeping up on the big three!

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  • 8. At 2:50pm on 30 Jan 2009, NIreland1-0England wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 9. At 2:51pm on 30 Jan 2009, manu989 wrote:

    If United draw on Saturday, which isn't too unlikely given Everton's good form, then this game isn't that important....

    If United do win - this game is absolutely huge! Its got 'draw' written all over it, which is useless to both teams.

    Hope we get some exciting games, regardless of the scores!

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  • 10. At 2:57pm on 30 Jan 2009, Eddy Cordoza wrote:

    I sense an improved Liverpool performance this weekend. Their match on Wednesday was a game there for the taking. No offense to Wigan - they've been excellent this season - but it was their first match without Palacios and Heskey, Valencia and Kirkland were injured and even Bramble was out. If Benitez had gone for the jugular then it probably would have been a comfortable three points. The Gerrard substitution was, to use Benitez's favourite word, 'crazy'.

    But it's a huge match on Sunday and i expect Liverpool to pull one of their 'big match' performances out of the hat, like they tend to do on a big European night.

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  • 11. At 2:58pm on 30 Jan 2009, Danshevik wrote:

    Say what you want about utd buying big for players, but when have we ever bought big and theyve spent the majority of their time on the bench?

    Ferguson has given a chance to all of his players, not judge them on a training pitch like Rafa seems to do.

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  • 12. At 3:01pm on 30 Jan 2009, Optomistic and English wrote:

    I think the Everton game will be tough, though i do feel that a more agressive aproach used by United is the sure way to break down stuborn defences, and im sure that Vidic will keep a strong eye on Cahil at set pieces. But ultimatley i could live with a draw because were picking up all the wins against the teams we should be beating, WBA, Bolton, Boro etc. But i would tip Chelsea beating Liverpool, simply as Scolari is the more aggressive manager, and they are in better form, but its more likely to be a draw!

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  • 13. At 3:07pm on 30 Jan 2009, Zephyryx wrote:

    Phil,

    I have been extremely strong in my criticism of some of your posts in the past but I am happy to admit that I found this one refreshingly good. I think your analysis of Benitez was far more rounded today. His decision to take off Gerrard on Wednesday is mystifying, I don't think it can be defended even by an ardent Benitez supporter such as myself.

    I am beginning to wonder how Lucas garnered so much admiration in Brazil earlier in his career. His credentials looked impeccable but he just doesn't seem to have any stand-out ability. He's utterly average. Alonso's passing is simply awesome, Gerrard has massive drive and aggression while Mascherano is energy personified with a tough bite. I don't see what Lucas brings to the party, and it pains me to say it.

    I do feel I need to point out, though, that Keane has made only 2 less league appearances than Gerrard. He's being left out because he's simply not been any good, it's not the mystery that some are making it out to be. I am a huge fan of Keane, he has world class in my opinion, but he hasn't shown it in any real quantity so far at Liverpool. I do feel that Benitez's biggest weakness is his man-management and this is perhaps a case-in-point. He needs to identify why a top-class player like Keane is underperforming and recitify the situation. Thusfar, Keane's arrival has been more of a distraction than a benefit.

    I feel that Sunday is a must win. It's early still, and the press (as always) are getting carried away when there is still 4 months of football left to play but if Liverpool only get a point or even worse, they will have to actually win at Old Trafford and that's a brief I wouldn't want! It should be stated, however, that Liverpool have had more than one bad January under Benitez and still finished extremey strongly. Last year, stronger than anyone else in fact. If they can pull it together in similar fashion this year, there might still be an open-top bus outside St George's Hall in May. (I'm an optimist, I admit it!)

    One plus is that Man Utd have to play Everton and I do feel they stand a far better chance of getting something from that game that people are saying. Everton should have been ashamed of their utterly defensive display on Sunday in my opinion. They are the 6th placed team in the league playing the then 2nd placed. That should be a contest, not a smash and grab. I respect Everton though, and wouldn't be at all surprised if they get a point tomorrow.

    Zephyryx

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  • 14. At 3:11pm on 30 Jan 2009, Quania wrote:

    Two words not mentioned 'Aston Villa'.

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  • 15. At 3:12pm on 30 Jan 2009, GodsSon83 wrote:

    Cmon United

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  • 16. At 3:14pm on 30 Jan 2009, manufan_India wrote:

    As mentioned before, come 1st February Liverpool's title dream will be done and dusted. Manutd have to be worried about Chelsea even if they are 7 or 8 points behind just because they have the experience which would prove vital in title run in. If Liverpool's does stop this rut then they are in for a real fight as they may even lose out on the 4th sport even though this is a remote possibility considering the way Arsenal are playing but you can never count Arsene out. Liverpool needs a british coach and as a Manu fan , i sincerely hope they stick with Rafa Benitez because Liverpool will never win the league title in England with this excellent defensive minded coach unless untill Fergie retires ,Wenger moves to Spain and Chelsea stops spending . They may do well in Cup competitions but that is not what Liverpool fans want. People may point out his league titles with Valencia but that was in Spanish League and at a time, Barcelona and Valencia was not firing. He was almost the Martin O Neil of Spain then and would still be reverred in Spain.

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  • 17. At 3:14pm on 30 Jan 2009, beto1960 wrote:

    I am a Liverpool supporer and I used to be a big fan of Benitez. But not anymore !
    This season he looks like a man who has run out of ideas, and he is making decisions based on stubborness rather than logic !

    Why does he insist on playing these frusrating little triangle passes in midfield ? , the player receiving the ball is very often not marked but he immediately passes the ball sideways or backwards. Now we also see the centreback playing it towards a player in the centre circle , and then the ball is played back again, when he is unmarked ?
    The build up play is too slow , it is no wonder the opposing team can get 10 players behind the ball in the final third when Liverpool do actually decide to go forward !

    Then we get to the final third of the pitch , this is where Liverpool run out of ideas. They just dont have the movement or the guile of the United forwards. I think Liverpool are far more effective when they break quickly, we have seen that a few times this season , normally when Peina throws the ball out quickly.

    Our wide men are all under performing , only Riera shows glimpses of skill, he should start on the left of midfield every game.
    Rafa should go back to 4 4 2 with Gerrard on the right of midfield with Alonso and Masch in the middle.
    Play Torres/Keane up front or Torres/Babbel or Torres/Kuyt, whichever !!
    But change is needed and quickly !!!

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  • 18. At 3:18pm on 30 Jan 2009, abdulchikintikah wrote:

    great article, usually all you read with blogs on these websites are journalists just slating benitez but you sir have made some fair points.

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  • 19. At 3:19pm on 30 Jan 2009, Chaddyroar wrote:

    I think that the only team relishing this weekend's fixtures may be Villa.

    Wigan are a decent side, no doubt, but they have lost 2 of their most influential players and with Villa having home advantage MON will fancy 3 points.

    Man U have to play an Everton side that have proved themselves over the past 4 seasons to be consistently and stubbornly 'the best of the rest'. They are rallying round Moyes and they are resolute in defence, no-one will fancy them to beat United but they could certainly get a point.

    Chelsea and Liverpool have to face each other, and Arsenal play an in form West Ham in what will be a tasty London Derby.

    All this means that it is entirely feasible that Villa could make up points on the rest of the top six this weekend and confirm a serious title challenge.

    They are playing good football and have a wily and popular manager, with fan favourites like Friedl between the sticks and a bullish Heskey leading the line I think many neutrals are really keen to see them unsettle the established order.

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  • 20. At 3:20pm on 30 Jan 2009, Bergysdeftflicks wrote:

    Its a strange old season Phil, it really is.

    Benitez is an odd ball and seemingly not too well versed in Liverpools playing history which is strange given that its all condensed in a 25 year era ie 1965- 1990. For the most part their base has been rigour, solid defence and physical force. Barnes, Beardsley and Co offered slightly better fayre in 1987-1990 approx. For him to then condemn Everton was indeed very ironic. I saw Everton on Wednesday night and while they arent flamboyant, they are a good side.

    Its been such a funny season that i as a Gunner (sadly we arent in the shake down) have actually found myself hoping that Man Utd do hold on to win it. Liverpool are and have been for years are drab cure for insomnia and Chelsea's decline is a welcome sight for those who think the arrival of Russian roubles created a moral decline for our great game.

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  • 21. At 3:20pm on 30 Jan 2009, Ryushinku wrote:

    All I can say is, I sincerely hope Chelsea beat Liverpool this weekend.

    The mauling at Old Trafford was awful for Chelsea but there's nothing to stop a side winning the league despite losing to their big rivals. That's the whole point of a league after all, the best over x amount of games now just the big ones.

    Bottom line, I certainly have more faith in Chelsea to challenge Man Utd than the bizarre efforts from Liverpool at the moment, falling to pieces faster than a zombie in a wind tunnel.

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  • 22. At 3:26pm on 30 Jan 2009, Xavierneville wrote:

    So I wonder how many Reds will be on their knees praying for Cahill to deliver for THEM this weekend?

    I'm afraid it won't happen. I'm as blue as they come and Utd will unlike Liverpool see us off by going for it if they score first.

    The irony is great, 1st to fourth in weeks, great play Rafa......

    As ususal Rafa put all his men behind the ball to bore other into the Champions League....



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  • 23. At 3:29pm on 30 Jan 2009, boblinc wrote:

    Why spend all that money on Keane and then not play to his strengths.

    Why spend all that money on him if you haven't got anyone who can play with him.

    I really thought that he would gel with Torres, but Rafa never gives them a long enough run together for it to happen.

    Given that Keane has been pretty successful everywhere else, it must be the set up at Liverpool that is against him succeeding.

    Pity really because I thought he would really do well there.

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  • 24. At 3:30pm on 30 Jan 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    Neither team can afford to draw if they are to win the league and whichever manager loses this match will then have a week of hell from the relentless media bloodhounds. Therefore it is a real pressure game for both managers and watching the respective dug outs on sunday may prove more entertaining than watching the actual game. That said, and despite being a blues fan, I think Liverpool are better than us this season and will get the win they and Benitez needs. Maybe, just maybe if we play Drogba and Anelka together we can look more off a threat up front, but we are so lacking in players that can go past defenders that I just can't see us breaking Liverpool down, and we are still well dodgy defending set pieces.

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  • 25. At 3:31pm on 30 Jan 2009, cigar86 wrote:

    Rafa has made LFC a defensive unit by default. as soon as LFC takes the lead, we start playing defensive. arbeloa to carragher to hyypia to aurelio and to reina and back and forth and to mascherano and back to reina. This is the cause of our downfall ( am a liverpool fan). we need to score goals and we need to play keane. i see the wisdom in not allowing rafa to have final say in terms of players purchase because he has bought mediocre players over the years. dossena, degel, arbeloa, luis garcia. May be the time has come for him to bow out.

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  • 26. At 3:32pm on 30 Jan 2009, throbbinrobin wrote:

    Top blog Phil. The only fault is you don't mention Villa - they could be a real surprise!

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  • 27. At 3:36pm on 30 Jan 2009, cigar86 wrote:

    benitez' tactics and selection are the reasons LFC is slipping. if we as LFC supporters need to hold someone responsible for our 2009 woes, it is Rafa and i think he should go even if he wins the league.

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  • 28. At 3:39pm on 30 Jan 2009, mape_ventura wrote:

    "limited Lucas" is a bit harsh Phil, the guy obviously has some talent.

    A manager knows his players better than any journo, and most of the above is just what fans have been saying. Alonso was on his way out of Liverpool in the summer and is clearly not in his plans. Watching the game, Torres definitely needed to come off when he did. However i've got to agree, 6 minutes from Gerrard is not a big ask, anyone who saw the FA Cup final against West Ham will know, even crippled by cramp he is still more than capable.

    I feel the decline at Liverpool in January would have happened regardless of Rafa's choices, though he has left himself open to criticism by making less than obvious gambles.

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  • 29. At 3:45pm on 30 Jan 2009, NIreland1-0England wrote:

    Have the flamin mods taken a holiday or something?

    Provided Utd beat Everton then the jig is up for whoever loses between Liverpool and Chelsea. It'll be an 8 point deficit once Utd win the game in hand.

    A draw helps neither team - 7 point deficit is nearly as bad and will leave Villa as main threat to the title.

    Hopefully this thought will sink in and mean an end to end exciting game with both teams chasing the win which will be crucial.

    Unfortunantely I can't see Rafa realising this and he'll play for the draw ensuring a boring game.

    Still....2nd is improvement, eh Rafa...

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  • 30. At 3:55pm on 30 Jan 2009, fernando999 wrote:

    If Liverpool beat Chelsea, the papers will be tripping over each other claiming that it will be "our year" all over again! C'mon you reds!

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  • 31. At 3:56pm on 30 Jan 2009, dandolinho wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 32. At 3:56pm on 30 Jan 2009, DaveWalnut wrote:

    I seem to remember Steven Gerrard being a little more than tired during the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham. In fact he had cramp in both legs and could barely walk, yet he managed to score a 37 yard goal in stoppage time and then play 30 minutes of extra time before scoring in the penalty shoot out.

    The FA Cup final was important to Benitez, so regardless of his fitness Gerrard continued to play. If the Wigan league game was as important to Benitez as it is to Liverpool fans, Gerrard would have finished the game. It wasn't so he was subbed off.

    Benitez has one flaw alone, and that is his inability to manage a team through a league campaign, his strength is in knock out tournaments where he can focus on one or two games at a time. But to focus on a full league campaign while adjusting to his resources, he finds completely impossible.

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  • 33. At 3:57pm on 30 Jan 2009, kevthered83 wrote:

    Phil...can I ask what is the point of doing your blogs on Friday afternoons when all your moderators are so obviously down the pub?

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  • 34. At 3:58pm on 30 Jan 2009, Professor wrote:

    "Nerve" and perplexity are already gripping Liverpool like the sage, SAF, opined.

    Hahahahaha!

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  • 35. At 4:05pm on 30 Jan 2009, Obaydah Al-Namer wrote:

    35th comment

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  • 36. At 4:18pm on 30 Jan 2009, soccerlifer wrote:

    Phil
    hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? I take your point about the "limited Lucas" playing ahead of Alonso, but you seem to imply that this is the norm for Benitez. That's clearly wrong. Remember Alonso was injured against Preston on Jan 3 and missed the Stoke game as a result of that. But he played both Everton games and Rafa clearly thought he needed more time to recover, especially with Chelsea and Everton coming up this week. I did expect Alonso to come in to steady ship in the last 20 minutes but that didn't happen and Lucas, who didn't play badly, sadly gave away the penalty. As for Gerrard, well, maybe he could have lasted another six minutes, but it wasn't one of his good days either.
    You are right though: Rafa needs to loosen the shackles against Chelsea - especially if we score early.

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  • 37. At 4:23pm on 30 Jan 2009, gordonjlegg wrote:

    Just to point out that, from my research, Liverpool are not really eight points ahead of their total last season - if you take into account who their opponents have been so far. They are in fact four points worse off relative to the opponents they have already played. The top five are as follows:

    Manchester United - 3 points up
    Chelsea - 14 points down
    Liverpool - 4 points down
    Villa - 16 points up
    Arsenal - 9 points down.

    Thus, as things stand, the final table would have (assuming all other results this season are the same as last season):

    Man Utd - 90
    Villa - 76
    Arsenal - 74
    Liverpool - 72
    Chelsea - 71.

    Unlikely, but I've not heard anyone else say this (but then most people's jobs aren't as boring as mine so they probably haven't had time to work it out...)

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  • 38. At 4:25pm on 30 Jan 2009, reddevilinboston wrote:

    Great blog Phil ... I must say you hit the nail on the head. As a united fan I'm hoping that Saturday's game goes in our favor we need the lead, especially since the schedule is so tight with the champions league resuming this month.

    From a neutral perspective the game on sunday promises to be an interesting one with both teams needing the win to establish themselves as title challengers. Makes to be a good game.

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  • 39. At 4:30pm on 30 Jan 2009, bobbieflowers wrote:

    i reckon theres about an 80 % chance that liverpool won't win the title

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  • 40. At 4:32pm on 30 Jan 2009, VillaMellotron wrote:

    Of course, as per Aston Villa do not exist.

    I can imagine it, last day of the season:

    1st - Man Utd - 91pts
    2nd - Aston Villa - 90pts
    3rd - Liverpool - 88pts
    4th - Chelsea - 88pts

    ALL talk will be of "Can Liverpool or Chelsea overcome the massive goal difference to steal the title from United?!"

    Aston who?

    If Villa beat Wigan tomorrow (wholly possible) and Liverpool and Chelsea draw on Sunday (very likely), Villa go SECOND.

    Will anyone sit up and notice then?

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  • 41. At 4:33pm on 30 Jan 2009, memyselfandpie wrote:

    I expect draws in both games.

    Yes, there's always the chance Ronaldo, Gerrard or Lampard coming up with a piece of brilliance but let's face it - chances are Everton will defend and defend well; Chelsea will be mindful of the losses to Liverpool and United, and Liverpool under Benitez are incapable of going for it.

    Benitez will see this match as one not to lose. Then he'll bank on a resurgence and a United collapse.

    Wouldn't bet on the latter...

    If he finishes second he'll point to the improvement his squad has made but the fans will look at Lucas, the lack of ambition against ten men Arsenal etc....

    Don't see Benitez at Anfield next season.

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  • 42. At 4:33pm on 30 Jan 2009, bobbieflowers wrote:

    "Have the flamin mods taken a holiday or something?"

    Brighton maybe?? might be a bit cold on the beach at this time of year!

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  • 43. At 4:38pm on 30 Jan 2009, dandolinho wrote:

    i got moderated for saying almost the same as poster 33.. except that they may have maybe.. errr, how can i put it this time.. bah i sed they went on strike

    anyway, point being.. not much difference in wot i sed n 33 did... thats just plain unfair lol

    anyway, yeah, at home we really need to just let go.. stuff it, draw is no good, so if we loose but go for it, n look an attacking team, like we kno they can then ill have comfort in the fact that they atleast tried.. id loose the will to live if they play defensive at home, i may even consider a revolt against benitez

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  • 44. At 4:39pm on 30 Jan 2009, cilurnum wrote:

    The title is over now. Chelsea and Liverpool had the chances to build an unassailable lead but they weren't inventive to break down teams who defended deep and Liverpool are far too cautious.

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  • 45. At 4:40pm on 30 Jan 2009, BigLRed wrote:

    Hi Phil,

    I agree with the majority of your post bar a couple of minor points. I believe that if the game on sunday ends up in a draw, the premiership race is over. I also believe that sundays game will deliver the hammer blow to either Chelsea or Liverpool (if either loses) and this is regardless of the Man Utd result on Saturday.
    I am a Liverpool season ticket holder and I have trouble in understanding what good is Lucas bringing to our team. He has had 1 good game (Newcastle's demolition) and that is it. Whenever I see his name on the starting line-up I worry because he brings NOTHING to our team.
    I believe that Liverpool will win the game on Sunday and sustain the challenge for a little while longer, but as your post suggest, there is a smell of inevitability to this year's Premiership race.
    I honestly hope we're both wrong.

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  • 46. At 4:43pm on 30 Jan 2009, kevthered83 wrote:

    Villamellotron, mate, even if the bloggers and journo's aren't taking Villa's threat too seriously, the fans of the top 4 are.

    As a man utd fan I see Villa as a massive threat. They are grinding out wins much the same as we are. I have a lot of respect for them, especially as they have a lot of English talent.

    I hope they can fight on to get 2nd place, but dont think they have enough to make it over the line. More to do with title challenging experience more than strenth in depth.

    Who knows though, its been an unpredictable league thus far. id have a little bet on Villa to claim the 4th place spot though.

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  • 47. At 4:44pm on 30 Jan 2009, EnglandJohn77 wrote:

    a draw would be good for liv and che, only have to look at final fixtures in may to see this will go down to the wire, manu play arsenal then hull in their last 2 games, 2 games that arsenal and hull will have to win.

    with so many games still to go it does surprise me people make out this game is the title decider, even arsenal are still in with a good chance.

    from the first game in august all we hear about is who will win the title and one slip up and its all over, then a week later its over for someone else.

    i hope arsenal or villa win the league just so next january we are not sitting here reading that its all over for teams with 15 games to go!

    i think liverpool arsenal and everton will all win 2-1 over the weekend and end of season manu will be fighting to stay in top 4, im even putting money on manu finishing 5th and i havent lost a bet for 3 years!

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  • 48. At 4:45pm on 30 Jan 2009, Bangforyourbuck wrote:

    I wish people would stop quoting Keane's appearance stats as the be-all and end-all of the debate.

    For the first three months of the season he was played in every position EXCEPT as a forward, most predominantly as a makeshift left winger.

    Then, when he was moved up front he looked rusty, mostly because of playing every week in a different position (and you can include training as well as matches in that). And because he was a bit rusty he was subbed on the 60-minute mark in every game as what appeared to be a matter of ritual, which is never going to help Keane get his sharpness back. So now is confidence is completely shot.

    All-in-all he has been extremely badly mis-managed by Benitez, there's no denying that.

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  • 49. At 4:50pm on 30 Jan 2009, Bangforyourbuck wrote:

    Oh and I'll be rooting for Villa this season as well. Leave them to go about their business quietly, it probably suits them better.

    But it's refreshing that a team jam-packed full of English talent is doing so well, if they qualify for the Champions League then the experience they'll get both domestically and in Europe will be invaluable to the current and future England set up.

    Villa are the torch-bearers for this league and it's a brilliant change from pundits, fans et al who normally harp on about the number of foreigners in the EPL stunting young players etc etc.

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  • 50. At 4:51pm on 30 Jan 2009, gay fish wrote:

    If they have been reading the reaction to the last 3 games on here then Gillette and Hicks could tell Rafa the games up at the weekend. Think its more likely that they say bye bye Rick and get someone else on board. Will have to wait and see but its fair enough to say that it will all depend on the result of the Chelsea game. They have not been playing well but there is no way we won't conceed so Rafa better make sure that our starting 11 have their weetabix and red bull and watch Braveheart on Sunday morning. :)

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  • 51. At 4:57pm on 30 Jan 2009, shorluka wrote:

    As an Irish person and hence an Irish Football fan I find it very frustrating that Keano has been left to rot on the Anfield bench, even if he wasnt rafa's signing he's still a quality striker and given a decent run of games he'll do the business. Its a shame it looks like its going to affect our push for qualification as we need the few top class players we have playing regularly and playing well. As regards the title this year smart money has to go on Man U, they just seem alot more solid and hungry (collectively) than the others, Chelski, Liverpool etc. Too many Chelsea players are past they're best and Liverpool in my opinion just dont have enough class to go all the way. I'd like to see Villa win it but they are in a similar position to Liverpool.

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  • 52. At 5:00pm on 30 Jan 2009, EnglandJohn77 wrote:

    1st Liverpool 86pts
    2nd Chelsea 84pts
    3rd Arsenal 82pts
    4th Aston Villa 82pts
    5th Manu 81pts
    6th Everton 78pts

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  • 53. At 5:01pm on 30 Jan 2009, Boshorange wrote:

    Both liverpool and chelsea need to win just to keep up with man utd, who with every game that goes by, are beginning to look as though they flickering into life as the deverstating force everyone expected them to be with the signing of berbatov. vidic is immense, evra is the best wing back in the country and van der sar is in his groove. even without ronaldo reaching the same level as the past season, berbatov, tevez and rooney are supplying the amunition up front. Ryan giggs has looked tremendous over the last few games, showing a kind of quality that you only get with age and experience, but that you need a genuine touch of class to develop. Liverpool and chelsea dont look good enough to compete with them, and both benitez and scolari seem a little erratic with press statements, starting lineups and transfers. when was the last time there was any major player unrest at man utd? even the heinze thing got solved much more quietly and quickly that the keane and drogba issues. Everton will put up a fight, and a good one, but i doubt they have the quality to beat man utd. liverpool and chelsea will go out very cautiously as they will both be afraid of leaking goals or falling behind which will get more tense as the games goes on, and eventually will end up playing a boring and uneventful draw that will suit nobody.
    Wenger, as good as he is, must still be a little deluded or afounder member of the optimist society to believe that arsenal have still got a chance to win the league. they have to watch our for villa!

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  • 54. At 5:01pm on 30 Jan 2009, Zulu Warrior wrote:

    SAF must have some alien powers that drive opponents mad. Rafa 'El Loco' has now joined a long list of broken minds. Of course MU will win it. They have Ron, Roo, the Vid, Berba, Tevez, Giggs, Evra, Rio, Scholes, VDS etc etc... all world class.
    LFC for all the spend have got Torres and Gerrard.... some other good players ..Alonso (but they were ready to sell) and Mascherano.... oh and Kuyt for width. Too many superior players in all positions AND matchwinners for MU.
    PS I am not a MU fan, but they seem unbeatable if they keep their form.

    Rival teams have coped well with injuries due to the depth of their squad, I'm not sure LFC could cope with the sort of injuries MU Chelsea and Arsenal have had. If Torres or Gerrard loose form or are injured they will struggle even more. El Loco has no plan B.
    Aston Villa are looking good for a CL place too. So Liverpool need to hope Arsenal struggle too.

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  • 55. At 5:09pm on 30 Jan 2009, Arctic wrote:

    I would laugh my ass off if Villa won the title this year. Something approaching poetic justice I feel. Or a mugging.

    Either way it would be a pleasant surprise to see them take away the top 4's toys for a season.

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  • 56. At 5:26pm on 30 Jan 2009, flyingEurotrash wrote:

    Phil,

    Everton can potentially get a point at OT on Saturday, absolutely. I'm a Liverpool fan and so I'm hoping for an Everton win, which is not beyond them at all; they are a very good side and all credit to Moyes for the job he does. He's right up there with SAF and MON in my book. But I feel Utd will win and win by 2 goals. They are on fire at the moment and relishing the challenge that they face. They have so much confidence in their manager and that filters down throughout the team. Liverpool on the other hand don't have that luxury. The players must be as confused as us fans as to what Rafa's next move is or what's on his mind.

    Liverpool take on teams down the middle. Shut down Gerrard and double mark Torres/Kuyt/Keane and Liverpool are out of ideas. Utd on the other hand stretch defences with their wide play and therefore create a lot more space in their opponent's attacking third. Liverpool's wingers (Reira, Shuyt, Babel) are presumably told to value possession rather than taking on the opposition full backs and getting the ball into the spaces behind. Utd are very good at this.

    Liverpool need to win on Sunday regardless of Utd's result. Lose and it's over, win and we're right back in it. But Rafa has to drop his defensive "let's not lose and if we do get one in front let's defend it and not man mark at set pieces" strategies, take the shackles off his players, play Keane as a foil for Torres, drop Masha or Alonso (pref drop Masha) and let them play.

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  • 57. At 5:26pm on 30 Jan 2009, philmcnultybbcsport wrote:

    I should clear up my thoughts on Aston Villa. I am not dismissing them - they have had an outstanding season guided by an excellent manager.

    They are built on British foundations and in time, backed by the wise ownership of Randy Lerner, will be a consistent force at the top of the table.

    Do I think they will win the title? No I don't - although wouldn't it be wonderful to see a complete outsider break up the "big four" cartel?

    I do not think they have the quality and depth of squad to match Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool just yet, but what a story it would be if sceptics like myself were proved wrong.

    Do I think they can qualify for the Champions League? I most certainly do - especially after watching Arsenal at Everton on Wednesday.

    Apologies to Villa fans if you felt I was ignoring your team. Do you think you can win the title?

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  • 58. At 5:47pm on 30 Jan 2009, GreenTeaBags wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 59. At 5:48pm on 30 Jan 2009, jacobnewbury wrote:

    Well I think this is simple. If Liverpool beat Chelsea this Sunday then the key matches are (Liverpool vs Villa, Liverpool vs Madrid and vice-versa and of course Man United vs Liverpool) I say the madrid matches because they are in between the aston villa and manchester united matches whcih could pay the price with fitness or Rafa could go for the easy apporach of choosing which one to win, and my personal opinion means he will chooese the champions league because of his mind. If Liverpool lose then it means we need a lot a of luck. Also any one who says Villa can't win it are also putting Chelsea and Liverpool off because they are level simple.


    Phil who do you think coming May will be lifting the trophy to the world as the Premier League Champions. Neville, Gerrard, Terry or Laursen?

    My bet is with out a doubt Liverpool because i think they will beat their remanding big four games and manchester united won't.

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  • 60. At 5:49pm on 30 Jan 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    Re comment 17.........

    Your description of watching Liverpool is an absolute ditto of my experience of watching Chelsea. Bodes well for a great game then?

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  • 61. At 6:23pm on 30 Jan 2009, emsti wrote:

    Guys give Rafael "Rafa Beni" Benitez a break - no I didnt mean break something. I think he decided to use his rotating player methodology in the middle of a game. I mean he clearly believes in innovation when it comes to footballing tactics. instead of rotating and resting players for entire matches he ... oh you get what I mean. And if you haven't figured out I am actually a Manchester United fan. If you're still reading - oh man are we getting ready for a Rafa roast and see Liverpool go down the Newcastle road. Only if......

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  • 62. At 6:31pm on 30 Jan 2009, gruchul wrote:

    Re: Post 57

    I agree that it is hard to imagine Aston Villa finishing in the top spot, but I think you're being overly negative about the squad as a whole. With Liverpool's continued reliance on Gerrard and Chelsea looking shakier as the season progresses, Aston Villa seem to be getting stronger and stronger. The whole squad seems very cohesive, no matter who is picked for the team. Whilst with Man Utd, you probably have a point, probably the squad best equipped to deal with injuries and suspension, for the team that is supposed to be the best team in the world that should go without saying.

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  • 63. At 7:01pm on 30 Jan 2009, happy_red wrote:

    "He has attacked Ferguson, Premier League officials, the fixture list, Everton's tactics and seemingly unknown "crazy" forces in the damaging draw at Wigan."

    What a terrible bit of journalism. Benitez hasn't attacked Premier League officials, or the fixture list or crazy 'forces'.

    You believe United will beat Everton because they are not "gripped by Liverpool's caution". You clearly did not watch us in the game you are referring to. At no time were we cautious and never was there a more one sided game against Everton.

    Against Wigan we played with Babel and Benayoun in a 4-3-3. Neither that formation nor the inclusion of those two players could be considered cautious.

    For goodness sake, BBC Sport blog editor (seeing as you wish to remain anonymous), if you are going to attack Liverpool get your facts right. Better still, get together with Robbo Robson and Phil McNulty and form an orderly line.

    The season is far from over...

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  • 64. At 7:12pm on 30 Jan 2009, redforever wrote:

    Its been a strange season, and something of a relief from the monotony we have become used to.
    I have watched the "top four" extensively, thanks to my new found addiction to Setanta Sports. In my view none of them have performed particularly well. United lack their usual flair and devastating attacking prowess, as witnessed by the number of one-nil wins. Arsenal are utterly bereft of any of the qualities that saw them so rampant and entertaining for two thirds of last season. Chelsea are looking old, and seem to be far less confident than before. Liverpool are dull to watch, play stilted, frightened football, and would be fighting relegation if they didnt have Gerrard.
    Villa have, on the other hand, improved. They play quickly and cleverly and seem to have little trouble overcoming weaker teams home and away. They have struggled to match the big four in those games, but have still hung on for a number of well fought draws.
    The only person who is performing as expected, is Alex Ferguson. Through a combination of personal force, and astute squad management, and the utter failure of Benitez to cope with the "heat", Ferguson has steered his somewhat limited team back to the top, and they will stay there.
    I think this weekends game is the fight for automatic CL place, and the loser will finish fourth. So it will be between the winner and Villa who finishes second.

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  • 65. At 7:16pm on 30 Jan 2009, cantona1968 wrote:

    #57 Phil, agree don't think Villa have enough of a squad to win the league. Injuries and player loss of form will take a higher toll on them than Utd, Chelsea & Liverpool. Although I do think they wil finish in a top 4 spot quite comfortably which in itself will shake things up a little.

    Expecting a draw with Liv/Chel and for Villa to be in second place by the time they have played their game.

    Think MoN and RL deserve great credit and as a Utd fan I am praying that Liverpool don't sack Benitez this year because MoN an obv target and I reckon Fergie is going to stay on for one more season after this before retiring. If Utd board had the sense to replace him with MoN (thats if hes interested) then i would be more than happy.

    Also Lerner seems like a v level headed owner and is happy with building the team up slowly and sesnsibly without paying over the top (take note City!)

    Aside from that don't think L/C losing menas they are def out for the season even if Utd win but I think they would then nearly have to have a perfect last 12 games or so.

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  • 66. At 7:29pm on 30 Jan 2009, ForTheLulz wrote:

    Writing as a Liverpool fan, if you'd have offered me our current points tally at the beginning of the season, I would have accepted gladly. Having said that, it is frustrating to realise that if we'd have taken all three points from the games where we were *supposed* to, then we'd be running away with it by now. It really is a confusing time to be a Liverpool fan.

    I am a Benitez admirer, but I do wish that he would be a little more positive with his team selections. The games against teams like Wigan and Stoke City were crying out for a midfield of Riera, Masch, Alonso and Gerrard (on the right before you ask), with Torres and Keane up top. Admittedly I don't have my coaching badges but on occasions it appears that Rafa relies too much on what his computers tell him instead of using his own professional judgement and instinct. I back him, but would love to unplug his stat machines and tell him to "use the force" now and again.

    Sticking with the Star Wars theme, I find it incredibly amusing that everybody seems to feel that the Sith Lord Darth Ferguson has mentally crippled Rafa Skywalker with his pesky mind tricks. What a load of smeg.

    In summary:

    1. There was no rant. Watch the now infamous Benitez clip again, then look up the word "rant" online. Not by any stretch of the imagination could it ever be considered a rant by anybody with even the most slender grasp of the English language. End of. However on reflection I do feel that he should have kept the sheet of paper in his Jedi cloak until the day after we'd just thumped a team. (At this rate that'll be just before the 2012 Olympics then.) :P

    Oh and if you are one of the many people who used the phrase "Rafa's rant" and "Kevin Keegan" in the same sentence, then you're an idiot. Please don't procreate. Genetic dead-ends and all that.

    2. Benitez has lost the plot? I think not. I do think that he's not at his best at the moment, but when you take into account the fact that he's recently undergone three operations for an extremely painful medical condition then it's understandable, albeit frustrating.

    3. This post is now longer than Slur Alex's till receipt from the off-licence, so I'll leave it there.

    If you would like to complain about any aspect of this post, please contact Ben Fogle courtesy of the BBC.

    I'm not him by the way.

    Toodlepipski

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  • 67. At 7:39pm on 30 Jan 2009, flyingEurotrash wrote:

    Torontored: Liverpool fighting relegation without Gerrard? They beat Utd earlier in the season WITHOUT GERRARD AND TORRES. You might need to do more than just watch Setanta Sports...........

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  • 68. At 7:45pm on 30 Jan 2009, flyingEurotrash wrote:

    Redmistdescending, I'm with you on the team selection with Stevie on the right. I also agree with you about "Rafa's Rant". However, I don't agree that Rafa is the man to lead us forward. Do you not pull your hair out almost every single game with the team selection and tactics? The substitutions? The "blind" faith in Kuyt? The stubborness? At times, the stubborn part is so out of control that it would seem Rafa is intentionally hurting the team to send out a message to Parry and the owners. I'm sick to death of it all. Against Everton in the cup it seemed that Rafa had finally seen sense and went for an attacking lineup with Keane and Torres. But Gerrard sat so deep it was still a 2 man holding midfield. I'm tired of it. I want the owners out, bring someone else in, show us the money and if Rafa can't show any more ambition with his signings, it's time for someone who will.

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  • 69. At 8:03pm on 30 Jan 2009, cantona1968 wrote:

    #66 If Rafa doesn't rant what do you call it then? Verbal diarrhea? non sensical musings? nervous vocals? incoherent speech? looney lashings? egotistical utterings? what? Remember this Fergie Rant was only the tip of it, he has a history of ranting, answering press conferences with teh same answer 17 times, ranting on about the audacity of teams to defend against them, about 'crazy'....unspecified things which seemed to prevent them winning. All of these things are just........excuses! The man is cringe worthy when he comes in front of a mic. he is the type of person that prob stands in front of mirror telling himself he is intellectuall, right, great tactian and funny! Only a blinkered Liverpool fan believes that the grey matter inside Rafas head is intact. The guys is a loose cannon and as far as I can see long may he stay at Liverpool.!

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  • 70. At 8:08pm on 30 Jan 2009, spanglishdan wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 71. At 8:09pm on 30 Jan 2009, The Importance of Being Didier wrote:

    Agree that Chelsea look to have grown old. They need to bleed in Stoch and Sinclair and replace Ballack with Essien.

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  • 72. At 9:47pm on 30 Jan 2009, LondonsFinestClub wrote:

    I am worried that Everton could be the victim of suspect decisions in United's favour. This could come as result of decisions not given or wrongly given. Everton are tough tackling but fair, but United have the king of simulators in the diving department and will work on winning set pieces and bookings.
    Unfortunately, Everton can't expect the same
    luxuries and will therefore be nervous in their approach to defending which often allows the attackers that split second more.
    However, Everton have the ability to score from set pieces and if they do so cleanly even Ferguson can't complain. The Whole country isbehind you Mr Moyes.

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  • 73. At 10:02pm on 30 Jan 2009, sainttrueblue wrote:

    What will happen is this-

    Man Utd and Liverpool both win. They are playing at home and we dont need to speculate Everton for a draw or Chelsea rising from their ashes.

    Although i hate to see ManUtd winning the title i hope Liverpool give them a tough fight. Although with the chances both Liverpool and Chelsea have had to be sitting atop the table no one should be surprised if the title goes to Old Trafford.

    Scholari will remain a manager next season too and eventually would be dropped in 2011 for Mancini or Mark Hughes.

    I dont see Scholari's tasting any success with the current squad, only almost. What he needs to do is revamp the entire team next season ousting Lamps (whom i dont think is going anywhere), drogba, ballack, malouda, kalou, paulo ferriera, anelka. These people have peaked already and i dont see the point of keeping them forever.

    We need to see the expensive Academy at Cobham churning some quality players already and playing some young guns regularly.......

    Barca will win Champions League

    Period!!

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  • 74. At 10:27pm on 30 Jan 2009, U11846789 wrote:

    A whole piece about the top 4.

    Well, about three of them.

    VILLA could be 2nd by Sunday evening Phil!

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  • 75. At 11:00pm on 30 Jan 2009, Carior wrote:

    Benitez/Scolari are both if we are honest all over the shop... however at least Scolari had the good sense to sit down and shut up when he realised things weren't going well and focus on sorting his team out (which he might almost have achieved) whereas the rafael benitez circus continues to roll at Anfield and whilst it does liverpool will continue their seemingly endless run of finished on level terms. Rafa needs to learn that to win the premier league you need to win matches when your playing like donkeys... Fergie does and 11 games of relatively uninspiring (by United's styandard) football has seen them march triumphantly to the top of the table and look rather comfy

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  • 76. At 11:04pm on 30 Jan 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    Cantona 1968 comment 69...............

    Thank you for you that perfect example of what a rant actually is and compare it to the now infamous but non-ranting press conference of Benitez.

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  • 77. At 11:24pm on 30 Jan 2009, mosescruise wrote:

    BENITEZ HAS NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT HIS TEAM'S DRAW AGAINST WIGAN, ALL FAULT LIES ON HIS BRAIN... WHY THINK SO LOW AS A MANAGER? GERARD HAS BEEN SCORING IN ALMOST ALL MATCHES MYSELF AS A MANCHESTER UNITED FAN WHENEVER I CHECK THE SCORE ON GOALS WITHOUT CHECKING I WILL SAY IT MUST BE GERARD...AND MOST TIMES ITS HIM.. THEN WHY REMOVE A HERO FROM A CRUCIAL MATCH NO MATTER HOW TIRED HE IS, LET HIM TRY FOR THE NEXT FEW MINUITES. BENITEZ TALKED ABOUT MAN.U SPENDING MONEY ON PLAYERS AND PUT THEM ON THE BENCH WHO? CAN ANYONE ASK HIM? WILL HE SAY TEVEZ? MAUCHO? BERBATOV? WHO? WE GOT LOTS OF STARS AND SIR SIR ALEX HAS ADOPTED THE ROTATION STYLE TO SUIT EVERY PLAYER .. TEVEZ HAS BEEN DOING QUITE WELL SCORING IN MOST OF THE MATCHES AND HE KNOWS HE IS GOOD THATS WHY CLUBS WANT TO BUY HIM.. BERBATOV WASNT REALLY PRODUCTIVE IN THE FIRST - THREE GAMES FOR MAN.U BUT FERGUSON HAD TO GIVE HIM GAMES TO IMPROVE AND NOW HE IS IN TOP FORM.. WHY NOT GIVE ROBBIE KEANE THE CHANCE TO SHOW HIMSELF AND WITH TIME HE WILL BE A STAR MAN IN LIVERPOOL... IM A FAN OF DIRK KUYT BUT HE HAS TO PUT IN MORE EFFORT IN HIS GAME PLAY... SURELY IM MANCHESTER UNITED FAN FOREVER... SEE YOU AFTER EVERTON'S MATCH WITH OUR WIN... I TRUST MY BOYS...

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  • 78. At 11:45pm on 30 Jan 2009, kalpesh wrote:

    Before you read this please note the following...

    get Carragher out - complete donkey
    Lucas out - complete donkey
    both full backs out - complete princesses

    Now read on!
    I must say that some of Benitez's tactics are somewhat puzzling. I could understand if we were talking about last season or a few seasons ago where title aspects were dreamt and not spoken of. This season has been different (with some luck of course) where Liverpool are in contention of winning the title and not just some mickey mouse cup. Teams can win titles. But only teams that go out to kill off games in question can be called champions. Chelsea is a must win game as were the previous games Liverpool have played this season. Mr. Benitez needs to realize that the league is not a grab and run hunting ground as it is in cup competitions. He should know this he is a manager! Start killing games off or witness finishing 5th.

    btw I am a Liverpool supporter and my money is on either Liverpool(if they win on Sunday) or Villa. Why Villa? they are the only team this season that I think can kill teams off. They have a lot of pace in areas that hurt teams.

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  • 79. At 00:12am on 31 Jan 2009, RepublikOfMancunia22 wrote:

    Just got Rafa's starting line up against Chelsea

    Ken Dodd
    Cilla Black
    Alexei Sayle
    Ringo Starr
    The Ginger one from Girls Aloud
    Jimmy Corkhill
    The 3 Scousers on Harry Enfield
    Me
    and of course Lucas!!!!!!!!!!

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  • 80. At 01:16am on 31 Jan 2009, WordsofWisdom wrote:

    Good Blog, but when all is said and done the facts are ominous and the destination of the title all but certain.

    Since late November Utd have taken 29 points from 33. In the same period they have played 5 more games than their rivals (2 CWC, 2 LC semi's and 1 game in hand) in what has been a gruelling schedule.

    They have coped with a huge injury list. Sir Alex has rotated his team wholesale and retained the quality and they have not conceded a goal in any of those 11 games.

    In the same period both Liverpool and Chelsea have taken 16 points from 30.

    The fixtures favour Utd and they have just come through the most difficult period in their season with flying colours. Come mid February Utd will have just about all of their injured players back and be perfectly placed for the final 3 month trophy assault.

    All the momentum and mental strength is with Utd while nearly all the controversy is at Anfield.

    It's a no brainer who will win the title. As predicted by most all along, Chelsea are the only ones equipped to mount a serious challenge and if they rally could yet provide some excitement in the run in.

    The others, as was the case at the start of the season, after 13 games and right now, are just not good enough to win the title.

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  • 81. At 01:21am on 31 Jan 2009, Ilicipolero wrote:

    Phil, another excellent, even handed blog from which your own football allegiance is not remotely obvious. How refreshing to see a high profile BBC journalist interacting with his audience, keep up the great work.

    I think at this stage of the season, all games for the contenders are difficult. Having been woefully wide of the mark with my rash predictions last time I ventured an opinion, I won't stick my neck out, (too far), this weekend. Having said that, a couple of draws in the featured games and a home win for Aston 'Vanilla' would certainly make things interesting. Arsenal need a win badly, how curious to see them five points adrift at the business end of the table at this stage.

    Rafa Benitez troubles me, by that I mean his coaching ability stands scrutiny with the best in recent years, final Premiership standings notwithstanding, what puzzles me is his penchant for disparaging comments about his closest rivals. With three and bit months to go, I think it's too early to conclude this weekends fixtures will have a direct influence on the destination of the Championship honours. Come Monday morning the status quo will have been maintained and we'll all be having the same analysis in a few weeks time.

    btw, Phil, will you be attending the Spain-England friendly in Seville for BBC Football online on February 11th? I'm waiting for my photography accreditation and would like to introduce myself to both you and Henry Winter at one or other of the press conferences.

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  • 82. At 01:29am on 31 Jan 2009, Konvictz wrote:

    In the last four years, football has undoubtly reached a new level.

    when chelsea came with their money, and their jose morinho and with their defensive but successful style, they won 2 premier leauges in a row. utd at the time did have their classical attacking style, but defensively they were not solid and their attack had some problems.

    but utd adapted, they seeked a far more effective attacking style. and with edwin van der sar, with the other defenders, utd became more solid at the back. i think that is amazing, how utd had to find someway to match and exceed chelseas style. and hense they scored so many goals in the last 2 and a half seasons. e.g. last year utd won like 4-0 in 4 games in a row i think.

    Now this season it does appear that utd (at the moment) pose the biggest attacking threat. it seems to me that berbatovs integration into the squad is finally begining to work effectively.

    having watched utd regurlaly in the last 3 seasons, i can they that on their day they are the most dangerous football club in the planet. its not always the scoreline which shows the story, its also the manner in which the game was played. the game against villa last season, 4 - 0, while that maybe a standard score for utd, the game was mind blowing. after the game i remember martin o neal was just amazed at how good utd played, he was literaly gob smacked

    but utd do not play like that every week. and they are prone to the ocaisional loss here and there. simply because they are not as defensive minded as liverpool. chelsea before and after are an example of this. they just did not loose before, however they did get alot of draws. now scolari has put on this atacking style, they are loosing more. although they are playing the best football i have ever seen chelsea play.

    i find it hard to understand how people are already talking about manchester united as champions again. theres just under half the season to go, utd could easily get two bad results and the title race is fully open.

    if they do win at everton and theres a draw in anfield. then utd go 4 points clear, and with their game in hand, people would regard it as a 7 point lead. which would means not only can they afford to make a couple of mistakes, they can concentrate harder on the other competitions. i am not suggesting that utd will win the quadruple for one second, but they are probably the favourites for the 3 english competitions at the moment.

    the premier leauge is the hardest one to win. it also shows who really is the best, and i mean the best. liverpool have recently never tried in more then one competition in one season, but this time they have tried and the results and the criticism show that they are out of their depth.

    if utd win then i dont think the anfield game will be a draw. liverpool are shocked right now, as they sleep now they will know chelsea are coming and will feel the pressure. chelsea are playing much better than liverpool at the moment, and they will be more confident, they also know how to deal with pressure. so i would expect chelsea to win the game at anfield if utd win.

    but for me as a utd fan, im sincerely hoping for a draw at anfield.

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  • 83. At 02:10am on 31 Jan 2009, Sportsfan87 wrote:

    #40 no they probably wont do, but you should not worry about that, villa do not need any added pressure when they have a champions league spot to obtain. (experience counts for a lot in challenging for the league so i think you will come up short on that).

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  • 84. At 08:02am on 31 Jan 2009, caringmlody wrote:

    liverpool will get their first win in 2009 on sunday 1st february. From previous matches played by chelsea, it is obvious that they can't stand-out liverpool's attack. Liverpool will defeat chelsea 2-1 if chelsea work hard and 4-1 if they don't play well.

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  • 85. At 08:25am on 31 Jan 2009, angelthejam wrote:

    Konvictz

    I have not comment to make to your 3 pages long post, thanks you took the time, but have found nothing interesting there,
    looking at the time you wrote that you probably were a bit "tired".

    Phil, i challenge you for 1 week without writting about Liverpool, do you think you could make it?

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  • 86. At 10:23am on 31 Jan 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    Oh Dear......

    I have just noticed the ref for Liverpool Vs Chelsea tomorrow is 'card happy' Mike Riley. Liverpool Vs Chelsea are always attritional affairs at best, and having a ref who never lets the game flow and often cocks up in big matches means frustration and controversy for at least one set of fans, and possibly both.

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  • 87. At 10:28am on 31 Jan 2009, briancressthered wrote:

    i read with amusment a lot of over biased predictions based only on certain peoples love of there club,i have supported liverpool for over 30 years so it would be easy for me to say we will win the league and man utd will fall away,thats my heart saying that not my head.
    I personally do not think liverpool will win the premiership with benitez in charge for the simple fact of being to negative against lesser teams,the overreliance on gerrard, the lack of depth in the squad and his insistance of playing players out of position.
    I cannot understand the logic of playing two defensive midfielders when you play at home (unless you are playing one of the other big three),for the sinple reason we have been found out,and teams come and park the bus,so in reality you have six defensive players marking maybe one,we have no width execpt for riera,but benitez continues to play kuyt and babbel when kuyt is a centre forward and in reality so is babbel,also babbel is so right footed it is unbelieavable but is continualy player on the left meaning he keeps cutting in all the time narrowing the play kuyt doesnt have the ability to beat even an average full back,instead cutting back and playing the ball back rather than forward,the only reason kuyt is picked is for his work rate and geting back but if you already have six defenders why does he need to track back,the fullbacks dont get forward enough,leaving it up to gerrard to unlock the door.
    even away games against lesser teams,by lesser teams i mean anyone below villa,are heading this way with bottom of the table teams happy for a point against one of the big four,we just dont have the strength in depth,where united have scholes or giggs to bring on or tevez,liverpool have lucas or ngog
    i really hope i am wrong come the end of the season,only time will tell

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  • 88. At 11:12am on 31 Jan 2009, Kíllìnghölmê_Clᥠ(aka Charlie Cheesecake) wrote:

    Phil,

    You seem to have joined the massed media ranks of Fergusson sycophants.

    Benitez complains, he's whining.
    Fergusson berates the FA, Referrees, Keith Hackett and Uncle Tom Cobbley and you treat him like some deity throwing pearls of wisdom from his mighty throne.

    I can't say I'll be reading any more of your blogs anytime soon. But then I dont expect you'll notice as your lips seem firmly pressed on the boots of "He who can do no wrong".

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  • 89. At 11:16am on 31 Jan 2009, whatbill wrote:

    United need to concentrate on beating Everton, which will not be easy.

    If they do that then any outcome is good: whoever wins will still be well behind United and whoever loses is effectively knocked out of the title race. A draw and both teams are hanging on by a thread.

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  • 90. At 11:20am on 31 Jan 2009, Big Match Centre wrote:

    You know, I'm sick to death of this 'Benitez is defensive' rubbish. It is quite simply not the case. At Anfield teams come and put ten men behind the ball (which is fine) but it is left to Liverpool to attack, and attack they do. There is no self-respecting intelligent football fan in the world that could say that we did not have the chances against Stoke, Fulham, Hull (although Hull didn't just defend), Everton and West Ham at home but in many instances it was a case of poor finishing or fantastic goalkeeping. The amount of shots peppered at the goal was quite frankly, ridiculous. As far as I am concerned this is not being defensive when you have 20-25 shots at goal and about half of them being clear cut chances. Away from home we have been remarkable in some games, but let's consider the two most recent, Stoke and Wigan. The Stoke match was never going to be easy, and Rafa knew that considering how many points they had taken off big teams at home and the way they had played. That performance was one of damage limitation more than anything. The only reason United got a win there, courtesy of a late goal, was because they had a man advantage. We had our chances there too. All in all, it wasnt a bad game, just not one for the beuaty-obsessed journalists and part-time football appreciators/bandwagon-jumpers. Benitez is a top-class coach and manager that in four seasons has won two major trophies and two minor trophies, gotten to two major finals and significantly improved the teams title credentials so that every year we edge closer in terms of points. Once again, this season we are eight points better off, only two points off the top spot (when was the last time you could say that, eh?) and in with a decent shout. So, lay off Benitez: he has achieved in four seasons what Ferguson took eight years (ish) to achieve (in terms of trophy count). He's the right man for the job and we are dramatically improving and becoming a force once again.

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  • 91. At 11:25am on 31 Jan 2009, Big Match Centre wrote:

    The other thing to mention is that the quality of the so-called lesser teams has improved considerably this season. Jimmy Bullard going to Hull? Jimmy Bullard is a player highly-regarded in Capello's mind and is a regular in the England set-up and if he can go to clubs like Hull, does this not mean that the quality of the teams below is improving? Everyone is beating each other or gettig draws this season because many teams are closely matched.
    Admittedly, United are the better side in this league and this run they are on is amazing. I was under no illusions that we would win the title, but it's still nice to dream, isn't it?

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  • 92. At 11:34am on 31 Jan 2009, Big Match Centre wrote:

    It doesn't matter. If you don't win you will always have someone talking about this decision or the other decision, football is like that - the best players when you lose are always in the stands or on the bench.

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  • 93. At 11:55am on 31 Jan 2009, Alex Gilson wrote:

    im sorry mustainerules but the points u r tryin to point out are so narrow minded ur swndin as stuborn as benitez... 20-25 shots the only tym i rememba u recordin tha many was against stoke at home... setting up with lucas, mashcerano in front of the back 4 ur tryin to tel me tha isnt negative i jus dnt understand how benitez cn stil b defended... he jus hasnt gt a pair to push forward... he hates concedin nd he bases tht on wats gona win him games when he shud b concentratin up the ova end... hes cluless... nd avin sum1 worth 20 mill bein a bench warmer is ridculous... 4 ur sake benitez must go... bt i dnt mind its all fun 4 the rest of the PL fans seein wa a muppet hes makin of himself... oh nd i wudnt call jimmy bullard an england regular... as much as i rate the guy...

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  • 94. At 12:15pm on 31 Jan 2009, Bodin! Fachy Fawr wrote:

    RE: "Rafa's Rant"

    The 'Pool fans are right that it wasn't a rant by definition ... but there is more than one way to 'lose it'. The fact that it wasn't an impulsive, emotional reaction like Keegan's should be even more worrying. Rafa must have thought about it and still reckoned it made sense! His mutterings in front of the camera remind me of my grandad before we put him in the home.

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  • 95. At 12:27pm on 31 Jan 2009, LFCandproud wrote:

    This sundays game will be massive for a few reasons. As someone has watched Liverpool very closely recently I do see a nervousness in the team. Possesion is apparently nine tenths of the law, but in football you need that little bit extra and with Liverpool we are severely lacking in the final third.

    We have seen in the past what benitez is like for making a point, my problem is he effects the club by backing his point sup in public. Cast our mind's back a few years ago when he was raving about how Arsenal's kids were better than liverpools in the build up to the carling cup tie, how Wenger had been allowed to spend 12 mil on walcott etc and how his hands were tied in bringing quality youth in, what did he do?? Put his kids in against the very team he said had better kids end result 6-3 oh and a few weeks later we were inundated with young foreign lads joining the club. The last copule of seasons everyone has been saying about benitez had ruined liverpools title challenge by chopping and changing in the early part of the season, saying it was a long campaign and his players would benefit at the end of the year. Stats prove how Liverpool always finish one of, if not the strongest team in the league. This year after a major summer tournament and after losing 3 players to the olympics he does what everyone suggests and plays a settled team and we start well, now we look tired and players who have been envolved nearly all year round look out of form etc. Did benitez know this was going to happen?? It proves our squad is not big enough to cope with that of Chelsea and utds YET! Yes he has had money but he is well behind the likes of utd and chelsea in spending power but we are getting there. I fell a corner turning, perhaps sunday, lets face it chelsea have been as bad if not worse than us recently, 3 points might just help us turn the corner!!

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  • 96. At 12:38pm on 31 Jan 2009, gorrestfrump wrote:

    I think whoever wins between CFC and Liverpool will be real contenders for the title this year, and conversely, the loser is likely to lose touch with Manure – should they win this weekend. I suspect this game will have big implications for the Managers too. BOth under pressure. Anyone see this fixture as a draw?
    Mr Workhope

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  • 97. At 12:43pm on 31 Jan 2009, Zulu Warrior wrote:

    #79
    Ken Dodd is not a Goalie he is a holding midfielder, Cilla has a groin strain and is v. doubtful. Don't u know anything about showbiz.

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  • 98. At 1:13pm on 31 Jan 2009, The Trawler wrote:

    dear redmistdescending :rolleyes:

    how interesting that you attempt to convey an intelligence of such inter-galactic proportions on the one hand, yet on the other hand seem to think that Alex Ferguson is even vaguely interested in the nonsense Benitez pulled out of his satchel in front of the howling hacks.

    that's nearly as crazy as those pesky wigan athletic footballers taking time out of their busy wednesday night schedules to run and tackle

    ycnmiu :- )

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  • 99. At 1:29pm on 31 Jan 2009, jazza0707 wrote:

    I do not think that we (Villa) will win the title, but im holding out a bit of hope.

    Im greatly enjoying us being mentioned in the same circles as great teams such as Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool.

    Im not enjoying what comes along with breaking into the top 4, the team who we are ahead of taking offense to every time we score a goal and their fear being relayed to us as hostility.

    I hope we can finish 4th because it would signal a huge achievement for this club and would be even earlier than a lot of people expected, even though this was the plan in the next season or 2.

    Dream scenario for the rest of the season. Finish 4th, go far in the UEFA Cup and Laursen comes back with no long term damage. In the summer Gareth Barry signs a new deal, we sign Michael Owen and bolster our squad with 2 squad players and 2 quality 1st team signings.

    Then we would be preflectly placed to challenge for the title next season.

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  • 100. At 2:05pm on 31 Jan 2009, Konvictz wrote:

    'we did not win because this small team played with 11 players in defence'

    that is a pathetic excuse that i keep hearing, and rafa benitez has been using that one for years now. if mr benitez was the manager of these 'small teams' and played one of the bigger ones, do you really think he would open the play up for one second? Only 1 manager does this, and thats mr mowbry at west brom. They place some very nice football at times, dare i say it, even more attacking than liverpool at times. but the evidence is there, look how many goals they concede at home and away. You just cannot play that style unless your defenders, midfielders and attackers are world class.

    mr benitez does not realise there are 3 other teams who face simarly problems. When small teams come to new highbury, old trafford and stamford bridge, they employ similar tactics. but utd deal with it. If you cant break a team down, then its simple mr benitez, you simply aint good enough.

    an interest point to note was what mr wenger said the other day. that the game was more open in the 90s, and smaller teams generally were more attacking and did not tighten up. They would come to the likes the old trafford and old highbury and give it a real go.

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  • 101. At 2:22pm on 31 Jan 2009, ForTheLulz wrote:

    #94 - See my comment about reproducing! :P

    #99:

    "on the other hand seem to think that Alex Ferguson is even vaguely interested in the nonsense Benitez pulled out of his satchel"

    Read my post again and please highlight where I even remotely infer such a thing.

    I didn't, you can't. Kind of pointless you posting at all really, unless you count the wisecrack about Wigan at the end.

    (I didn't by the way)

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  • 102. At 3:10pm on 31 Jan 2009, The Trawler wrote:

    i must've imagined you'd mentioned Ferguson's pesky mind tricks

    deary me

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  • 103. At 3:20pm on 31 Jan 2009, redhorrocks wrote:

    I think the media is out to get Benitez a bit, to further 'the story' that he is feeling the pressure and going off the rails a tad. He subbed gerrard, so what. i think what he meant by his 'crazy' comments was that his team lost their shape and played without their brains, not to difficult to decifer. He is a good manager, maybe not a great manager..but they are few and far between.

    As for the title race being decided this weekend in anyway shape or form is just complete nonesense, and cheif writers should know better, i do, and im very much an armchair football fan.
    Chelsea will beat Liverpool. Liverpool lack any invention in midfield, they rely too much on Gerrard and he cant save them every match...maybe thats why he was replaced against Wigan, there are another ten players being paid fortunes, who also have responisiblity to make impacts in matches.

    Robbie keane was a terrible buy especially for the money he went for, and from what ive heard benitez was not part of that deal, and it doesnt surprise me Rafa leaves him on the bench, he is not a champions League player, he started a lot of games and the start of the season and did nothing to warrant a place in the first team, again not rafas fault but brave to leave him out considering the pressure to play him.

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  • 104. At 3:30pm on 31 Jan 2009, grandlibertine wrote:

    Have to say Phil, great blog. However Liverpool fans need to realise Benitez only cares about getting more points than the previous season, that to him his success

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  • 105. At 7:30pm on 31 Jan 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    You can criticise Benitez all you like re his press conference, but a stone wall penalty not given to Everton when Ferdinand was all over Lescott certainly gives evidence to his case. Can any stat experts come up when Man U last had a penalty awarded agst them at Old Trafford by the way?

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  • 106. At 8:00pm on 31 Jan 2009, WordsofWisdom wrote:

    @105: that's not a problem actually. It was less than 2 weeks ago. Derby in the LC semi.

    As for the 'stick on penalty' you claim... it wasn't and none of the commentators or analysts agree with you. Read the reports!

    On the other hand, the foul on Carrick early in the 2nd half is deemed by the media to be a certain penalty that the ref bottled.

    Take off the rose tinted glasses my friend and accept that you are just not good enough.

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  • 107. At 8:42pm on 31 Jan 2009, Spaced Invader wrote:

    Good to see someone with an excellent grasp of the game make a comment about Lucas - it's seemed so far that he has a protective shield around him 'he's Brazilian' / 'he's young'/ 'he's not settled yet'.

    How about... 'he's not very good'? As United fan I can't say I'm sorry when a fine player like Alonso is left out, but as a fan of football generally I can't bear to see average players deny us the right of seeing genuine talent.

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  • 108. At 8:42pm on 31 Jan 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    106..........

    I don't need to read the reports, I watched the game and can form my opinions on what i see with my own eyes thanks. It's those of you saddos that rely on others to form your views for you that scare me. You are right however, Carrick should have had a second penalty, but that still does not eradicate the fact that Lescott should have had one too. And I don't support Liverpool, so not sure who you are referring to when you say you are not good enough. I trust you are being ironic with your tag name "words of wisdom".

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  • 109. At 8:45pm on 31 Jan 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    106

    But thanks for the info on the penalties, although i should have stated conceding penalties in the Premiership whci i suspect is sometime ago.

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  • 110. At 8:54pm on 31 Jan 2009, Picky Paul wrote:

    Seems than manu beat everton.

    What this means is crunch time tomorrow.

    A draw is not the worst outcome, providing you can beat the likes of Wigan and Stoke, unfortunatley these two teams seem to be having difficulty doing that.

    That is what makes this win or bust time. My money is on Benitez, thats what makes Liverpool so dangerous in Europe.

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  • 111. At 9:35pm on 31 Jan 2009, sixty8ninety9zero8 wrote:

    106

    But thanks for the info on the penalties, although i should have stated conceding penalties in the Premiership whci i suspect is sometime ago.

    ----------------------------------------------------


    norapeti - the last prem penalty scored at OT was scored by Mendy of Hull City in a 4-3 defeat on 1st November 08.
    3 months ago.

    Not sure of your allegiance but out of the other teams fighting at the top. Can't see any pens conceded at home in the Premier League by Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal. Villa conceded one to Man City back on August 17th converted by Elano.

    ----------------------------------------------------

    Anyway the comment i'd like to make is that I don't believe that rafa "ranted" and this was just coined as a media phrase, but Ferguson asked the question as to whether Liverpool could cope with the unique pressure of leading the title race which only Man Utd and Chelsea have mastered recently. Arsenal's manager has also tasted this experience but tellingly not many of his players have. Whether you agree or disagree with Benitez' facts (largely depends on which end of the east lancs you live) you cannot deny that Utd are getting the job done. They aren't playing with the attacking style which Utd are renowned for but most teams in the premier league will now shut up shop and hope for a slice of luck. Liverpool don't seem to have the belief that they can hold on to a lead and often play their best football when they go a goal down whereas Utd have the patience and belief that their defence will stay tight and one of their forwards can create. If they score early they tend to go for the kill when the other teams open up. If the early break doesn't come then they persist until the 90th minute (92nd 94th)
    I don't think whoever loses tomorrow is out of the race but they will have to certainly up their game for the remainder of the season.

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  • 112. At 9:58pm on 31 Jan 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    111........

    Thanks for that info on pens and my allegiance is Chelsea.

    Re United, I think they are playing with the same style, but this year there is clear evidence that more sides have successfully adopted ten men behind the ball tactics and it is just so hard to find space. The best way to overcome this tactic was illustrated by Carrick today, where he made direct runs into the penalty area. Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal just keep passing it in front of the defenders and it is too predictable and too slow. I really do think the loser of tomorrow's game is out of the title race as I would estimate United to finish the season somewhere between 87 and 90 points out of a possible 98. Prior totomorrow's match the max Liverpool or Chelsea can get is 93 points so the losing side tomorrow will probably have to win all remaining games to win the title and that is almost an impossible ask, particulalry with champions league commitments.

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  • 113. At 10:15pm on 31 Jan 2009, The Trawler wrote:

    it's pure comedy the way people still bang on about there being no penalties for the away teams at OT - especially liverpool fans

    let's be honest, regardless of any penalties for any team at any level of football, the Kop End penalty syndrome is the stuff of infamous football legend

    and when was the last time United got a penalty at Anfield?

    i mean, over the last 30 years we've won at that place 14 or 15 times off the top of my head. and yet i can't remember United ever getting a single penalty.

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  • 114. At 02:17am on 01 Feb 2009, Poolruleasnumber1 wrote:

    I have been a lifelong fan of LFC. I live in Canada now and try to get to Anfield once in a while. I have seen great games and can't wait now until Sunday morning at 11:00am. live on TV. I will be annoying the neighbours with the volume at 100!

    I have said to my friends over and over since after the 4th game of the season, that the cruical day will be the last game of the season when Liverpool will be playing to win the league and Tottenham will need to win to stay in the Premier. (Wished I'd bet on that), but to do that Liverpool must win tomorrow and keep on scoring.

    With reference to Benetiz, I do believe he has to go, and he should take Lucas with him. Lucas is a reserve team player at best, and if he is playing tomorrow or even sitting on the bench, I will choke myself!!!!

    We needed to insert decent wing play from Kuyt, Reira and even Benayoun. Sadly Pennant is now elsewhere. We have forgotten where the net is and Benetiz shrugs off those must win games we should have had. He now is stating "crazy"was responsible for the Wigan disaster. We have lost too many points from these draws and unless he institutes playing forward more and more into the 18 yard area, yet again, another year will go by without the title. Look at ManU, 5 points back and now in a matter of a few games, 5 points ahead, and I watched their game against Everton, and they weren't really that good!!

    Come on you true REDS, show the football world what a winning team is.
    Thanks and goodnight.

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  • 115. At 02:26am on 01 Feb 2009, Marcus Ebert wrote:

    this game has a similar taste to chelsea vs arsenal at SB last season...both teams needed to win and grant was under pressure and everyone said he couldnt beat the other top 4 teams and after arsenal scored noone expected the chelsea comeback except for the chelsea faithful.. but even then it was still a bit of a suprise!
    lets hope history repeats itself although it was a long time ago that chelsea last won at anfield.. time for that to change
    força chelsea

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  • 116. At 05:37am on 01 Feb 2009, mi_pratik wrote:

    What ever Happens Sir Alex has shown so far that hes the great

    the reason behind the sucess of MANU is teamwork and respect of the manager

    in Chelsea there is no respect for Luiz from the players and then Rafa does not have support of the Board

    wht Sir Alex has the players and the board thats why he is the mr cool for me

    Chelsea and Liverpool Must understand its the gelling of every one that is needed

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  • 117. At 5:50pm on 01 Feb 2009, Thomas Bowen wrote:

    As a United fan I'd love to see Liverpool get the win. With the extra man on the pitch I fancy them to grab a winner in the last five minutes easy as. Most United fans, and SAF for that matter seem to be hoping for the draw, but to me it's quite clear that Liverpools title threat is over. It was before the first ball of the season was kicked. Every year, Liverpool have a good start to the season and fall away in the second half. This is partly because their team revolves around 2 players, and partly because the team and fans lack the confidence to believe that they can win it. It's quite clear that without Torres banging in goals, Liverpool can't get results. If it weren't for Gerrard and Torres, Liverpool would be mid-table.

    Torres just scored. Pretty much sums up what I've just said.

    This is a big game for both teams given their poor form as of late, and neither was going to be going for a draw regardless of how United got on yesterday. Chelski will bounce back from this and string together 4 or 5 wins on the bounce and give us a run for our money. Liverpool will remain inconsistent, and aside from the three points they'll take from us at Old Trafford, will be lucky to finish the season in the top 4.

    I wont discuss Rafas rant too much, but I bet he's regretting it a fair bit now, and something tells me it didn't have the effect on 'Mr. Fergusson' and his team that Rafa hoped it might.

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  • 118. At 6:02pm on 01 Feb 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    Is that the sixth red card in Liverpool's favour this season?

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  • 119. At 6:19pm on 01 Feb 2009, Roman Philosopher wrote:

    We now have a new twist on the Gerrard Vs Lampard debate anyway. Which one knows how to best butter up the ref?

    1. Gerrard boots the ball into the midrift of Boswinga and gets a smile from Mike Riley. Rory Delap take note!

    2. Gerrad goes over the top studs up into Mikel and gets another smile from Mike Riley? See Rafa's mind games work too!

    3. Lampard wins the ball in a 50-50 tackle and gets a tiny piece of Alonso in the follow through automatic RED! Sorry Frank the jury in no longer out you are not as good as Gerrard.

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  • 120. At 9:57pm on 01 Feb 2009, Jaglicic wrote:

    Great win for Liverpool...Fernando Fernando... Lampard very bad...

    See goals at www.goalstube.com

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  • 121. At 01:57am on 02 Feb 2009, Poolruleasnumber1 wrote:

    Greetings from Canada.

    I have just finished watching, for the 2nd time. glorious Liverpool absolutely overpowering Chelsea, and deserving to win.

    On the sending off, I don't think it was fair, and Gerrard should have been disciplined for kicking the ball into the Chelsea player.

    HOWEVER, the behaviour of Jose Boswinga, by placing his studs on Benayoun's back and pushing him to the ground should warrant at least a 5 match ban and a heavy heavy fine. This has got to be one of the worst displays of ignorance and contempt from a Chelsea player I have ever witnesses, since as a boy, I watched Peter Osgood spit in another opposing player's face.

    I have detested Chelsea since then and more so even now. LIVERPOOL ARE BACK.
    GO REDS!!!!!

    Thank you and goodnight

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