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Benitez & Ancelotti poles apart

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Phil McNulty | 19:10 UK time, Sunday, 2 May 2010

At Anfield

Rafael Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti have shared honours and a common bond in Champions League finals from Istanbul to Athens - and the pair stood only a few feet apart again at Anfield.

How times have changed. As they exchanged handshakes after a Chelsea win that positions them on the edge of Premier League glory, it was hard to escape the image of two men literally heading in opposite directions at the final whistle.

Ancelotti was able to ponder the prospect of winning the title with victory on home soil against Wigan next week while Benitez's fate was to dodge, duck and dive around constant, and reasonable, questions about his Liverpool future.

gerrard_pa_blog.jpgNot a good day at the office for Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard - photo: PA

When the fixture list was published, Benitez may have made a mental note that Chelsea's visit to Anfield for their penultimate game could be a defining day in the Premier League race. It probably was - but with Liverpool embarrassingly looking at the top from a distant seventh place.

Ancelotti readily accepted, without any complacency about the meeting with Wigan, that this was "the key game" for Chelsea. Win at Liverpool and win the league was the accepted wisdom - now the job is there to be concluded.

The Italian has been questioned since he was brought to Stamford Bridge by Roman Abramovich to redefine Chelsea. All these will be answered emphatically if he creates history by winning the league and FA Cup double.

This is more than can be said for Benitez who, far from answering questions emphatically, left everything hanging in the air and did nothing to dispel the damaging clouds of uncertainty hovering over Liverpool.

It had been suggested some Liverpool supporters may have welcomed defeat if it stopped Manchester United overtaking their tally of 18 titles. This in itself is a signpost to how far their fortunes have fallen this season - and why Benitez's position must be under close scrutiny.

"Gary Neville Or Chelsea?" was the poser put forward on one Chelsea banner in the Anfield Road stand. The brutal truth for Liverpool was that it was not a lack of effort or desire that let them down - it was a lack of class and quality.

And for this, for all his hints that he has again been let down by owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Benitez must take a large share of the blame. Too many average players signed and last summer's £37m transfer budget spent questionably on the talented but injury-prone Alberto Aquilani and England defender Glen Johnson, who has still not quite mastered the art of defending.

Amid talk of flirtation with the Old Lady of Italian football Juventus, Benitez declined countless opportunities to confirm that he would like to be at Liverpool next season - irrespective of any intervention the reconstructed Anfield board might care to make.

As for Benitez seeking assurances about his future, Liverpool's hierarchy may care to suggest the massively lucrative five-year contract awarded to him last season should be regarded as reassurance enough. It is time for the game-playing and manouevring to stop as it is Liverpool and their fans who are suffering.

Liverpool need a period of stability after the turbulence that has knocked the club off course in recent years. Benitez was either unwilling or unable to make a start in that process when asked to provide some guidance and commitment on his future.

I asked Benitez why it was not possible, on his part, to offer words of commitment about his future when he has four years left on his contract. On this day, he said, he wanted to talk about football rather than speculation. Words virtually guaranteed to lead to further speculation.

This could be a decisive summer for Liverpool. And all the sights and sounds around Anfield yesterday added to the growing belief that Benitez is increasingly unlikely to be part of it.

Support for Benitez, who has had an almost hypnotic effect on sections of Liverpool's support in the past, was muted during the game and on a "thank you" lap of Anfield in the minutes after the game. Adoration witnessed previously was in short supply and it had the appearance of a tenure that is drawing to a tame conclusion.

ancelotti_blog_ap.jpgWhile Ancelotti edges closer to the league title the wait for Benitez goes on - photo: AP

If Liverpool conjure up a huge transfer kitty from somewwhere - unlikely - this summer, would they be prepared to entrust it to Benitez? This must be addressed and such is the importance of the next few months to one of the great clubs in world football, the conclusions must be arrived at swiftly.

Benitez, sights lowered, talked about "guaranteed" European football next season. Not quite the guarantee of Champions League football he offered a few months ago, but a small crumb of comfort of sorts.

The second place finish last season that led to so much optimism - and wildly inaccurate predictions from some that Liverpool might win the league this time out - was a false dawn. History now tells us it was an opportunity missed as opposed to a building block for future success.

Liverpool's fans habitually (not to mention incorrectly) take potshots at Chelsea about their lack of history. It was done in desperation as opposed to defiance on this occasion and the response of "You're Ancient History" from the visiting support was a savage and hurtful retort to a sombre Anfield.

In Liverpool's defence, they tried to give a good account of themselves in an attempt to derail Chelsea and offer hope to United. They were simply too poor, too mediocre, to turn the early effort into anything tangible.

They sank like a stone after Steven Gerrard had one of those moments that hits him once every few seasons, placing a back pass unerringly into Didier Drogba's path for Chelsea's opening goal.

As the conspiracy theorists gathered on Sunderland's Grassy Knoll, what would you have given to have been in earshot of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson?

Frank Lampard's second goal was celebrated like a title winner by Chelsea's fans. And so it may prove in a week's time.

Chelsea survived a slow start to end in total command as Liverpool ran out of legs, ideas and inspiration - their brilliant goalkeeper Pepe Reina apart. Ancelotti's side were nowhere near their best, but Liverpool's frailty, especially after playing 120 minutes in a lost cause against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League on Thursday, meant they did not have to be.

Ancelotti has the opportunity to usher in a new era at Chelsea with a title triumph against Wigan next Sunday. Benitez may be coming to the end of one when Liverpool bring the curtain down on a dismal campaign at Hull City.

You can follow me throughout this season at twitter.com/philmcnulty and join me on Facebook.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    good article!
    rafa out for me

  • Comment number 2.

    1st well done chelsea

  • Comment number 3.

    Chelsea fans at Anfield did indeed celebrate as if we have already won the league, but after this at times unpredictable season Chelsea have had, I won't celebrate until I see captain John Terry FINALLY lifting the trophy after the Wigan game. Nothing has been achieved yet, though I'm optimistic that this Chelsea team is too experienced to become a victim of complacency in such a situation.

    As for Liverpool, with or without Benitez they will come back, simply because they are Liverpool, a team with a long successful history and a huge fan base. I think it's pretty obvious that Benitez will leave, and it will be for the better as far as Liverpool are concerned. With the owners, even in the worst case scenario, they will attract a suitable buyer simply because of their name; they are no Portsmouth

  • Comment number 4.

    All this talk of the title already in the bag, Stop it! There is still one more game to go and its Wigan. I'm sorry, who expected them to do what they did to Arsenal. I know Chelsea are a bit more mature, but don't jinx it!

  • Comment number 5.

    I can't see Chelsea drawing or losing their last game next week but stranger things have happened in football. For Liverpool they just need to get rid of Rafa and the road to recovery will begin, Hodgson might just be the man needed at Anfield.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have been following Chelsea for all of my 48 years, and I know us too well to celebrate until it's mathematically impossible for us to be caught- and Wigan have history of being a thorn in our side....

    That said, it's ours to lose, and it's plain and simple- beat Wigan, and what happens elsewhere is irrelevant.

  • Comment number 7.

    A good blog Phil.

    Liverpool have a serious issue now concerning Benitez. Sacking him will cost anywhere between 15 and 20 million, plus the cost of the new manager and whatever backroom staff he brings in. This is alongside the fact that, given the threadbare (to say the least) squad at Liverpool, said new manager would want a substantial transfer kitty provided, if he has sense. Even if the owners could provide such a war chest, it would be substantially down, in theory, on that which could be given to Rafa, but as you rightly say they do not trust him with it. So it seems a few years in the wilderness are ahead either way- whether Rafa is allowed to continue steering the LFC ship, with the mediocre results that follow, or conduct a root and branch review of the squad and manager, which will take time, effort, patience, and most importantly money?

  • Comment number 8.

    Wigan, ended up costing us the title two seasons ago, was it Heskey's late equaliser?

    So it ain't over till it's over. I hope there will be no complacency from the Chelsea 11.

    But I will echo the thought of large majority of Chelsea fans is that win or lose, Ancelotti has been a revelation both Chelsea FC and English football. The guy deserves huge praise. Not only for performances on the pitch, but the way he conducts himself off it.

    Even when the decision have gone against us, Ancelotti has never resorted to commenting on refereing performances. Even today after a blatant penalty on Kalou wasn't given (similar to Belletti's sending off and penalty kick against Man City?), Ancelotti simply said he thought it was a penalty, but he was happy with the referee. Imagine Fergie doing that? Unthinkable.

    People are saying, if we win we will be the best of the worst bunch? But how can this be true? Injury ravaged season for top 3. All teams missing key men at times this season. However, Chelsea are breaking records - goal difference, most goals scored at home, and just need 3 goals against Wigan to beat United's record 97 goals in a season. Chelsea are also the first team since the Premier League moved to a 36 games season to have 2 players to have scored over 20 league goals in Drogba and Lampard. Chelsea are the first team to beat all the so called top 4 teams home and away.

    Despite all the controversy that the media have kicked up, Chelsea it seems have prevailed.

    Best Premier League season? I think so.

  • Comment number 9.

    With all the criticisms of Benitez, following the CL dissappintment, failed title bid, Europa semi final defeat and this defeat which all but dooms Liverpool to Europa Cup football next season, its important to put things into persective.

    This so called "Big Four" classification is one coined up by the media, and has been a poisoned chalice to create a gladiator type dog-fight at the top end of the Premiership tables every season, similar to the relegation scraps that engulf the bottom 3. With England given 4 Champions League slots, the lure of UEFA revenue has become irresistable, and it has turned to a musical chairs merry-go-round between Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in recent times, save for Everton's infiltration in 2004.

    However am I wrong in thinking that this form of expectation brings undue pressure and is overtly unrealistic? Liverpool under Rafa, have been consistent Champions League qualifiers, and he's come closer than any other manager since the advent of the EPL to winning the title. During the Houllier years, Liverpool didn't always qualify for the CL, even winning the old UEFA Cup in 2001 which was celebrated as one of the famed treble of 2001 ( with the Carling and FA Cup). Liverpool weren't a feared force in Europe either. Under Rafa, they have consistently qualified and beaten teams like Milan, Barcelona, Chelsea and Madrid while appearing in 2 finals and 2 semis. Although not all transfers have proven successful, in Reina, Agger, Aquilani, Skertel, there lies the frames of a decent team. Torres if he is sold, must be replaced by 2 value strikers of decent quality. Significant investment is needed in the squad, or the club should re-adjust its targets for the next few seasons.

    In contrasting the fortunes of Benitez and Ancelotti, McNulty perharps forgot to mention that Chelsea hasn't won the Premiership in 4 years, though they have had 2 FA Cups in that period; the team has had to change managers and has also had its own share of transfers who didn't improve the team or failed to gel. Chelsea has rebuilt, and is still rebuilding. The second phase of Mourinho's team building brought some players who never settled in: Pizarro, Ben Haim, Sidwell, Boulharouz, Schevchenko. Chelsea under Hiddink and then Ancelotti have tried to rebuild but very slowly; Ivanovic has solved the right back problem, Zirkhov is a fine left sided utility player. Sturridge has a great future, and surely the likes of Ballack, Deco, Billetti, Carvalho and Ferreira are surely reaching the end of their Blues careers. If rumours are to believed, money may be made available to strengthen the clubs's forward and creative midfield departments.

    Rafa is an awesome manager, who has won titles in Spain with Valencia where he challenged the duopoly of Madrid and Barcelona with one of the most well organised club teams of the Noughties. They also won the UEFA Cup, and his first few years at Anfield brought significant progress. Contrary to popular belief, I believe decline set in the following season after the 07 CL final loss. Buys like Babel, Voronin, Pennant and Mark Gonzales failed to settle in, and I believe Crouch should not have been sold. Keane's failure at Anfield, and the 2nd finish just papered the cracks of inconsistency and lack of squad depth. The price paid for Aquilani could have bought a decent striker to support Torres like Rolladega of Wigan, and also a midfield playmaker like Van Der Vaart/ Gago of Real Madrid with whom they had done business with following the transfers of Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso! Glen Johnson, while having a decent season, was grossly overpriced. For that amount of money for a full back, I'd expect Maicon, Alves, Ashley Cole and Evra rolled into one!

    Even if Rafa were to leave, what will be the options for next season? Will the management have the required funds to hire a top European name like Hiddink or Mourinho, or should those resources be better utilised, buying new players to strengthen the team. Or will Hodgson be invited instead. Or will Liverpool go the route of AC Milan, Barcelona or Juventus in hiring an young ex-player who knows Liverpool through and through, and is ready to knuckle down and work with the youth academy. A player like McCallister?

    What ever the decision, I wish Liverpool the best next season. And Rafa is an sound manager. A great tactician, and a gentleman.

  • Comment number 10.

    Full marks to Chelsea today - they did the job against Liverpool and now have to hold their nerve against Wigan.

    As a lifelong Liverpool fan I hope that the summer brings a conclusion to Benitez and the lamentable saga that has been the reign of Gillett and Hicks - surely the biggest mistake the club has ever made. For me it is not just about the manager, who for me has flattered to deceive. David Moores has to share some of the blame for not selling to DIC, which appeared to me to be a reasonable deal with real money on the table, but to a pair of Americans who borrowed to purchase the club, have saddled it with huge debt and left it struggling to fund a first 11, let alone cover for that 11. The stadium plans are vital to generate the income so desperately needed to compete at the highest level, yet still not a blade of grass is disturbed. Worrying times indeed.

    In 2005 I thought we finally had the manager that would bring the Premiership to Liverpool. How wrong I was. This season has been a disaster - from the moment of Benitez's ill fated rant against SAF last year we have gone backwards spectacularly. Looking at the match today it is clear he is no longer seen as the 'messiah' and I am pretty certain he will be off to pastures new once the season is over.

    This summer is probably more important than ever for Liverpool. No CL next season is a major financial setback. Who should replace Benitez? And, most pertinently, who will replace Gillett and Hicks? If we emerge from this with decent finance behind us and a sound choice of manager (Roy Hodgson?) then I think we can come back, but my fear is that it is the beginning of the end for a club that was once the most feared in Europe.

  • Comment number 11.

    The quality of the Liverpool side peaked around 2002 -05, and since then players have either gotten older or been replaced with inferior replacements. The presence of Torres tends to cover ths up, but when he's out as he has been for most of this season the fall-off in quality is steep.

    Even the best managers can make transfer errors. I think most would agree that Fergie has made several poor moves recently. But the quality of the Liverpool squad has been declining for several years, and I think think money (or lack of it) has not been the reason.

    If Juve or somebody else want Rafa, I imagine his buyout clause can be made a non-issue.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    I feel sorry for Liverpool. After all, they are a great club with a great history. And this is coming from a Chelsea fan! Then again, at the beginning of the season, I'd tipped Liverpool to win the title this year.

    If I would be a Saudi with a billion to spend on English football club, I would be buying Liverpool, and not ManCity or Tottenham. They might have only few good but injury-prone stars and the rest of the team is just average, but they have a soul and spirit unlike any other club, including the one I'm supporting.

  • Comment number 14.

    well done chelsea

  • Comment number 15.

    >" David Moores has to share some of the blame for not selling to DIC, which appeared to me to be a reasonable deal with real money on the table, but to a pair of Americans who borrowed to purchase the club, have saddled it with huge debt and left it struggling to fund a first 11, let alone cover for that 11."


    That seems an unrealistic assessment. Liverpool have spent some very serious money over the years on refreshing their squad. The problem has been with the players they bought, not in the amount of money spent. By some accounts Rafa spent 230 million pounds since 2004, including 37 million in the last off-season.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Never quite understood why Rafa pays lots of money for players (Keane, Aqui) whom he then refuses to trust with a game.

    Glen Johnson is a pretty good attacking defender - he made Opta's Premiership XI squad on numbers alone:
    - More successful crosses per 90 mins than any other defender
    - Created more goalscoring chances per 90 mins than any other defender in open play
    - 2.19 completed dribbles per 90 mins is 0.83 more than any other defender
    http://optasports.com/about/news/feature-the-opta-premier-league-team-of-the-season.html

    I'm not saying Glen doesn't have more to learn about defending. But he's not one of Rafa's bad buys. There are far worthier candidates for that.

    Blaming Rafa for Crouch's sale is wrong too. (It's not mentioned in the article itself but by some posters.) Rafa said he wanted to keep Crouch but Peter wanted to move since Portsmouth was offering him nearly double the wages or something. (Which says a lot about footie finances and bubbles.)

    A number of ex-players have complained that Rafa doesnt allow them to play their natural game. And while that's certainly something to consider (I'm on their side actually), it should be balanced against those players who praise his tactical mind and the fact that every manager has detractors.

  • Comment number 18.

    Also, as Phil said, it's about time Liverpool fans, as well as Man Utd fans stopped throwing the "you've got no history" line at us. It's pretty obvious from this season that "history" in the sense that Liverpool/Man Utd fans say it is a bit tiring to say the least and makes no difference whatsoever in the "present".

    I find it kind of similar to Arsenal fans booing Ashley Cole, only for him to promptly set up two goals against them.

  • Comment number 19.

    The problem liverpool are facing here is the loss of our 2 gems. if we can survive the summer without losing stevie and nando i have a strong feeling we can rebuild with new owners and a manager. however i watched the lap of honour from the players after the match and whilst most of the other players looked happy (even if they were putting on a front) stevie and nando looked dejected and as if they were fed up with the clubs failure

  • Comment number 20.

    Really, really good blog and nice to see an outbreak of common sense from the likes of Twirlip on here. Evidently not taken in by the spin of Rafa The Politician.

    I, for one, hope that Juventus come and pay the going rate and take this guy off Liverpool's hands so we can finally move on. Gerard Houllier was lost the plot towards the end of his tenure, but the facts are that he delivered Champions League football in his outgoing season, unlike Benitez if this turns out to be his last season in charge. Houllier also delivered more silverware, and for less money spent.

    Yet still, I would say that Liverpool need to learn the lessons of the last 20 years and realise that it is not a crime to remove managers if they are not doing the business. It works for other clubs, so why should they be any different. The way Liverpool drag it out, especially for Benitez and Houllier, it's like a slow painful death on life support.

    I hate to say it but it needs one man, with incredible vision and a real determination, to come and rescue the club. It happened to a certain north-west club in November 1986. They haven't done too badly since.....

  • Comment number 21.

    'It wasn't a lack of effort or desire that let them down?'

    Anyone that believes Liverpool put even 90% into the game is either deluded or in denial. Granted they are bad at the moment, but they are not that bad.

    And #10, 'full-marks to Chelsea'? Both goals were gifted to them, the first pretty obviously and the second through Carragher's naivety, trying to carry on when pretty clearly injured.

    In the early stages and up until their first goal Chelsea were incredibly lethargic, arguably showing even less desire than Liverpool to win the game. I don't think they will be good champions for the Premier League, and I still find it astonishing that a team that has so far scored 95 goals in the league this season can still be so terrible to watch!

    Considering the refereeing decisions that gave Chelsea both wins against United, and the fact that Liverpool's most convincing performance of the season came at Anfield against United (an embarrassing contrast to the performance they gave today) Chelsea and Ancelotti can consider themselves very fortunate to have lucked into this league title.

  • Comment number 22.

    I am a Hull City supporter of some 40 years - a Club of no little size that has had the temerity to flirt with the PL for the past two years.

    I read with interest and wholly concur with mikeinwilts appraisal of Livepool FC.

    Why do they think - like every other so called top four club - that they deserve a place irrespective of form amongst the elite of the English game?

    This on a day when the likes of Sheff Wed (a club of rich history) find themselves facing up to life (again) in the third tier of English football.

    No one is immune to failure and that includes a so called institution such as Liverpool.


  • Comment number 23.

    @CJH91

    Do you honestly believe that Liverpool would have held out or won this game if it had not been for Gerrard's backpass?
    The way it turned out, in the end Chelsea did not need to come out of 2nd gear to beat a physically and psychologically drained Liverpool side.

    Also,some reasons why Chelsea deserve to be champions?
    1)Double over Man Utd
    2)Double over Liverpool
    3)Double over Arsenal
    4)Scored the most goals in the league
    5)Scored 7 goals 3 times, something you cannot deny is incredible

    If you're going to say that Chelsea have benefited from refereeing decisions, then you're also going to have to mention the times Man Utd have also benefited from these things(eg vs Man City at OT). Also, Utd have also had more than their share of luck with own goals. I think it's 11 they scored this season

    Just trying to put things into perspective here, maybe Chelsea have not got as many points as we are used to watching champions get, but the point is to be better than everyone else in one season, not better than the team who one it last year!

  • Comment number 24.

    Until Gerrard's back-pas, there wasn't a single incident of note for either team, apart from Aquilani hitting the bar. Ancelotti was furious on the sideline, obviously he wasn't happy with the way his team were performing.

    The game was dependent on who scored the first goal; as soon as Drogba pounced it was game over. They never got out of second gear as you said, but until Drogba's goal this was looking like nowhere near enough.

    And the reasons?

    1) As I've said, first game at SB, United (as most reporters stated at the time) were as good as if not better than Chelsea and created the better chances. If you remember John Terry's header involved a foul during a free-kick that shouldn't have even been awarded in the first place. At OT, in a fairly even game (United were admittedly lacklustre) Drogba's decisive second goal was offside (I think you'll agree with me on that one).
    2) As I've said, you can't compare the two games with Liverpool. Switch the respective performances and the results would change; Liverpool would have beaten Chelsea in October, United would have won today.
    3) Both did the double over Arsenal.
    4) Fair enough, Chelsea have scored a crazy amount of goals.
    5) And to score 7 goals on 3 occasions is incredible, but this season has produced some incredible results!

    The United - Man City 'added time' was blown completely out of proportion by Mark Hughes and then the media, when accounting for the substitutions made (by Man City) during the additional time and the fact that Bellamy's equaliser was also after the 90 minutes (which Atkinson said at the time he'd added a minute on for, due to the celebrations etc.) I think Owen's goal was scored 10-15 seconds after the actual time was up, something I guess happens quite frequently in the Premiership.

    And I can't believe people still use the 'own goals' situation against United, opposition players don't simply turn around and give them the goals, much as Liverpool did today!

    I don't think the points totals matter to be honest, I'm just anticipating the forthcoming glorification of all things Italian, Ivorian and Blue and think most of it might be misplaced!

  • Comment number 25.

    Couldn't agree more with Georgie25. When will Chelsea get the credit that they deserve? Closing in on 100 goals with a record goal difference and some people still have the audacity to describe Chelsea as "boring" to watch. Give me our results and "boring" football over Arsenal trying to walk the ball into the net every day of the week.
    I don't care what anyone says, Chelsea have deserved to win the title and the comment that we have "lucked the league" is frankly ridiculous. To beat the other top 4 sides both home and away is an astounding achievement. Also, to lose 6 games all season is hardly catastrophic, particularly when you look at how close some of our losses were (e.g lampard missed penalty at Man City, Drogba hitting the bar at Everton).

    Someone mentioned to me that Ancelotti is no Mourinho, but if he wins the league and cup double, he will have outdone the special one in their respective first seasons.
    Also, have a look at some of the Premiership seasons gone by; the 98-99 treble winning season for Man Utd was won with 79 points; if we win next week we will be 7 points better off. That particular season, quite rightly, is lauded as one of the best ever, yet somehow our season is viewed as disappointing by many. The league has certainly got a lot stronger, with teams like Spurs, City, Villa and Everton becoming particularly dangerous, and also the likes of Fulham, Birmingham, Stoke and Blackburn being very tricky opponents. I would suggest that the focus needs to be on these sides improving drastically as opposed to the top 3 or 4 falling away at the level many have suggested.

    Finally, when we lost to Inter, I was subjected to many taunts, to say that Chelsea were "a spent force in Europe". How many will now eat their words, considering how well Inter did against Barca. We didn;t turn up that night, but hardly a disgrace to lose to arguably the best side in Europe this season.

    Anyway, rant over, I wish Chelsea and Carlo Ancelotti do get the credit for hopefully, deservedly, winning the league and cup double.

  • Comment number 26.

    To say that there are worrying times ahead for liverpool shows a complete lack of perspective. Whatever happens over the summer liverpool will be in contention for a CL place at least and will continue to be one of the prem's "big clubs".
    As a palace fan I have real worries about the future. Despite our amazing effort at sheff wed it's a real concern that it will all be for nothing and that we may not be in existence next season.
    There are a number of other teams up and down the football league with real concerns about remaining in existence so the "worries" at liverpool pale in comparison.
    But as usual nobody outside the prem gives a hoot about what's going on below them.
    Give me the worries of a Kop fan any day of the week.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    I think it's downright cheek for Benitez to ask for more cash to spend this summer when he has the worst record of any Premiership manager of signing flops.

    "Gary Neville or Chelsea?" - I'm not sure which is the lesser evil there!

  • Comment number 29.

    If I remember correctly, United were pretty poor against Chelsea at home, and yet they were playing for the title against their main rival. This said, how United fans can criticise Liverpool for their performance at home to Chelsea is beyond me.

    Yes we were poor - but had nothing to play for and were on the back of a difficult game on Thursday. I don't hear United fans complaining about the way Sunderland played yesterday....

  • Comment number 30.

    Many good comments here. This has been a great season no matter what happens next week.

    As a long-time United fan I'll give Chelsea their dues whether they win or lose. I thought in pre-season that it was likely Chelsea would win it all. They may be aging but there's a lot of talent there. Ancelloti has already stated that next year they would begin dealing with the age issue. Like the other top clubs injuries affected their season.

    I don't think Liverpool is necessarily going to drop down to the next tier over several upcoming seasons. I've never understood how Benitez goes about selecting his team or making substitutions. His choices don't leave much room for error. That said the playing staff is better than most people give credit for. They will be back, but need new management, a better stadium, and a couple of players. I'm one of those who don't think the players have been used to the best of their abilities.

    There's are several teams that have demonstrated that they can break into the top four. Injuries are key, but other teams have gotten better in relationship to the great teams.

    I'm proud of UTD, whether they win the league or not. This was definitely a transition season for us. Who else could lose talent like Ronaldo and Tevez and still push it to the limit?

    I think we'll see a similar season next year. Competition makes football much more enjoyable for everybody.

    I can hardly wait to see what next year brings.

  • Comment number 31.

    First things first - congratulations to Chelsea.
    They havent won it yet but Im sure they will beat Wigan to confirm the title. Im a Man Utd fan but Chelsea have been the best team through the season - I dont think its been a good season overall with the top teams playing some poor football based on previous standards.
    As for Liverpool i feel sorry for them; a fantastic club with unbelievable history in such a sorry state. From day one i thought Rafa was a problem for Liverpool - bad attitude never taking responsibility for anything, bad buys and poor football.
    A lucky win in the Champions league gave him the good will of the fans but he has let them down despite the unwavering support which is undeserved in my view. Even after the season they have had he still plays the media game; his arrogance is unbelievable for someone who has done his best to bring down one of the biggest clubs in Europe.
    Why Juve/Madrid would be interested I've no idea - they must be mad.

  • Comment number 32.

    Phil and others who raise some of Benitez's short coming make some valid points. However, the underlying causes of Liverpool's problems remain the current ownership and lack of progress on the new stadium.

    It is clear that both of these issues are the fundamental reasons why Liverpool has failed to win the title. Without certainty of ownership and income stream (something the other big 3 all have) Benitez has been limited with his options and has been unable to fully implement his plans.

    Yes he has signed some duds, however, I think a number of the other big managers are guilty of this. Also, I think some of those signing have resulted has he hasn't had the funding to secure the services of the players he has really wanted. Yes, he has signed some stars (Torres), but has not been able to sign the quality of support required to make a truly successful and robust team.

    I can see the argument that he has had is chances and his time is up. However, without the ownership and stadium issues being addressed I don't believe any manager will be able to come in and deliver to Liverpool fans what it is we really want.

    Sort out the ownership, get the stadium approved and underway and give the manager, be it Benitez or whoever else (I would personally go for "The Special One") the required resources and funding to get Liverpool back to the top.

    Simply changing the manager will be akin to shuffling deck chairs on the titanic.

  • Comment number 33.

    It does look likely that Chelsea will win the league (barring a shock result on the final day of the season) and as the saying goes, the league never lies, so whoever finishes on top deserves the plaudits.

    To temper the Blue army slightly, as the season winds to a close, there are certainly some things to consider.

    Despite beating the other members of the "top 4" home and away, Chelsea are only 1 point ahead of Manchester United, meaning they have been shipping a lot more points against teams you are expected to beat than normal. You need to address this as i am sure next season they won't have the same level of success against the "top 4".

    Yes, Chelsea have scored 95 goals this season, which is a lot, but remember that 21 (a 1/5th) of those goals came in just three games this season. You made hay while the sun shone.

    Looking at the table it does appear that the only difference between Chelsea and Man Utd this season was the game between them at OT. Away form is similar, Man Utd shading it slightly, and the only difference in the home form is Man Utd losing an extra home game. All this against the backdrop of Utd losing their star player and missing most of their main defenders at the same time for a significant part of the season.

    I think both teams are going to need to freshen up their squads this close season as there are some aging members in both teams, and it will be interesting to see who they bring in.

    However, i must say that i am surprised at how far from grace Liverpool seem to have slipped. Watching the game yesterday it was almost painful to see. I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories; Liverpool started the game well, but as soon as Chelsea got the goal, heads dropped, and the lack of belief that they could get back into the game was palpable.

    I am in the minority that thinks the blame mainly lies with Benitez more than Gillett and Hicks. They have backed him with money which by all accounts they can't really afford, and the money has been wasted on sub-standard players (with a few exceptions). However, i can understand the boards reluctance on getting rid of a manager every time they have a bad season. After all, Fergie almost got the boot after finishing 2nd in the league and then the next couple of seasons the team really struggled. The rest, as they say, is history.

  • Comment number 34.

    I watched the game yesterday and I think Liverpool put in a very poor effort to win the game. They didn't close down, their passing was pathetic (I lost count of the mis placed passes that went out of play) and their attitude was a "let's get this over with".
    The first goal almost had the look of a gift wrapped in ribbons to condemn Man U. Chelsea started of poorly also. It was like they were waiting for Liverpool to tire later in the game.
    Liverpool are a club with a great history, but maybe they have to go back to the drawing board and build back up slowly, even if it takes 5-10 years so they can be in a healthy position in the future.

  • Comment number 35.

    Gerard simply dint want United to win the league. . .
    It discredits the premiership.

  • Comment number 36.

    Liverpool's problems don't just fall at Benitez's or the owners feet. Gerrard, Carra, Babel, Masch, Lucas, Torres and Aqualani have each played their part by having extended runs of poor form or fitness. Gerrard in particular looks like a man who does not have the stumoch for a fight any more. For a captain to berate his team mates as often as he does is a disgrace and the posturing when a substitution is made that he doesn't agree with is a sign of the petulance that proves he's a captain by name only.
    He should remember that he was trying to break into the team at one time and there are times when others need encouragement in front if 45,000 pairs of eyes and not a captain who looks to the heavans before throwing his arms up on the air and giving them the look of death.
    I would cash in on Stevie now before his negativity towards the lesser players in the team starts to do the same damage as Roy Keanes did at Utd.
    As good as Torres is, it's time to cash in on him and use the funds to buy players who can string more than 3 games together before being out for a month. Had he been fit this season (and had Rafa bought decent back up) our manager would not be questioned on his failure to qualify for the CL.
    The sale of Gerrard and Torres would generate enough cash for 4 maybe 5 top drawer players who have the desire to be part of a rebuilding of our club under either the current or new manager. We did it when Rush went to Italy ( think Barnes, Beardsley, Aldo and Houghton) and it's time to do it again.

  • Comment number 37.

    sour grapes from cjh91 i see.

    totally forgetting about macheda throwing the ball into the net and neville kung fuing anelka yet no penalty given

  • Comment number 38.

  • Comment number 39.

    Rafa should take the responsibility of this disasterous season and should quit.

    I am almost certain, if he does not quit, he will be fired.Change in manager will infuse new ideas which were utterly missing in the entire loong season..

  • Comment number 40.

    Well, Phil, I've been posting similar comments on 606 for the past few years. It's all about quality, and signing good players, as Bill Nicholson used to say. You can have all the tactical nous in the world, but if your players aren't up to it (or up for it) you've no chance.
    Benitez could have benefitted from a Peter Taylor type assistant to scout talent for him or tell him some home truths about players - the list at Liverpool is too long to mention - who simply don't cut it. Is a disobdedient and unruly Bellamy worse than a frankly useless and unmotivated Ryan Babel? For instance.
    I could go on, but it's all too sad.
    Big changes this summer both on and off the pitch. The tides of men and all that.......with apologies to Stuart Hall.

  • Comment number 41.

    I still think this is a great team and it's one built by Rafa:

    Reina
    Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio
    Mascherano, Aquilani
    Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun
    Torres,

    Bench:
    Cavalieri
    Insua
    Degen
    Skrtel
    Lucas
    Babel
    Ngog

    Ok, the bench isn't great but the only two expensive players on there (Skrtel and Babel) are good players who will improve over the next couple of years.

  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 43.

    A lot of people here seem to believe it is the owners' fault, and not Saint Rafa's. Rafa has spent more money since 2004 than any other PL manager, and most of it has been wasted.

    Get rid of him while you still can, unless barely qualifying for Europe is considered acceptable?

    Congratulations to Chelsea.

  • Comment number 44.

    I could go on all day about Liverpool and what we need to do to get my team out of the pathetic mess it is in but I would like everyone to remember that Hicks & Gillette aren't to blame for all of this, they are just two greedy, ruthless businessmen with no historical connection to LFC...or even football. No, the blame lies squarely at the door of DAVID MOORES and RICK PARRY. We had a deal with DIC that would have put us back near the top of the money tree, owned by serious players who always want to win. Instead 'I'll cry again if you tell me I am not the biggest Red in the world' MOORES decided to line his pockets and sell us to these two jackals.

    It still sickens me that the Kop held up a mosaic saying 'Good Bye and Thank You' to Moores...I can think of one or two other sentiments we could have expressed.

    Moores betrayed LFC and even had the brass neck to cry crocodile tears as he was piling up his money. Parry actually said that 'You only sell the family silver once, so you have to get it right' when referring to the sale of LFC. Well, did you get it right Rick? For you rather than us, I suppose you did....ETERNAL SHAME ON THE PAIR OF YOU..

  • Comment number 45.

    @jchubeta, excellent comments. Not sure that rafa will survive though but statistically there is no doubting he has been very successful and unfortunately the poor buys have over-shadowed the good ones.

  • Comment number 46.

    EPL Placings
    1. RichMan'sToy FC
    2. RichFamily'sBank Utd
    3. SomeMoney FC
    4. AbouttheSame FC
    5. LoadsnLoadsnLoadsofMoney City
    6. NotaLoto'Money FC
    7. UpforSale FC
    8. Not'oLoto'MoneyEither FC
    9. AsAbove FC
    10-19: TetteringontheEdgheandmaybeGoneFC.s
    20.KnackersYard FC

  • Comment number 47.

    liverpool were a disgrace to their history and also the premiership, an utter gutless performance, tantamount to cheating, thank god they are in freefall!

  • Comment number 48.

    Liverpool were hopeless, and never looked like doing anything other than being beaten. A poor showing from a poor team.

  • Comment number 49.

    I will wonder for many years to come, if Gerrard actually threw the game. Liverpool have been so poor this season in comparision to last season it's beyond belief. United, I believe have played better more attractive football than in previous seasons, but clearly having lost more games have been victims of their own injury list and inability to get it together this season when it mattered most. The match against Chelsea is the match where the leauge has been effectively won and lost. I don't see Wigan even drawing against Chelsea next week, unless the blues have a major attack of Nerves. They have been incredibly strong on the run in all credit to them. Personally I think United threw this one away and if they win it, it will be sheer luck. It will also annoy the ABU brigade something fierce.
    The blog was really really good. I enjoyed it. Personally I have never liked Benetez I hope he leaves. I hope the manager that replaces him will be a bit more likeable and a lot better, it would be good to have some competition at the top. I think in Fact next season is going to be a slog for all involved as the top teams are about 6 now, and the top 10 seem to be well set too. I am not hoping really than United win this league this year, I am being pragmatic, however I think with Hargreaves back in Midfield, Nani improving, Valencia bedded in, Our defence could not possibly be as injured as they were this year, I reckon United look good for next season already. If Benetez doesn't go, Liverpool will be 15th or so by seasons end.

  • Comment number 50.

    cyberfc.........

    Steady on mate!

    I know what you are saying about Chelsea and Liverpool, and I have sat in the kop many times, and even as a Chelsea fan always get moved when they sing YNWA.

    And yes, maybe Chelsea does not have the soul of Liverpool, but we have plenty of fans like myself who have supported the club through thick and thin for 40 years, that must count for something.

  • Comment number 51.

    Rafa certainly looks like he's off now. Those assurances are indeed vague.

    The big question mark now is over his replacement, there don't seem to be any of the world class managers available and Mourinho would not be interested in Liverpool.

    My tip? Dalglish, Kenny.

  • Comment number 52.

    Stop all the speculation. Chelsea will beat Wigan without a shadow of doubt. Provided they stay focused and stop listening to the pro man Utd media trying to intimidate them.

  • Comment number 53.

    @yorlooprevil68

    You're spot on. My allegiance in football lies elsewhere but nobody deserves the questionable dealings of Statler and Waldorf to whom Moores sold his birthright.

    However, the main point of this excellent article is the leadership of Manuel. European and FA Cup titles are fantastic achievements but the league title is still a remote fantasy. What did Manuel do to build on last year's excellent season? Splash out £17m on a defender whose defending is his weak spot and £20m on a player with a proven injury record. Hardly a great leap forward.

    So, who would you like as your next manager? Please, no fantasy names like Mourinho, be realistic.

  • Comment number 54.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 55.

    Few days ago Rafa told the press that he wants to sign more british players, like the young lad from Charlton, 'cause they know what Liverpool really means. I wonder if that applies for the manager too!

  • Comment number 56.

    Had Liverpool made the Europa final, and they came within one bad offside call of doing so, then this blog would be irrelevant.

    That's how close it was between a reasonable season and a poor one, but I'd expect nothing else from the chief cynical sports writer.

  • Comment number 57.

    Benitez stupidly 'guaranteed' Liverpool fans a Champions League spot and he failed to deliver. It was obvious he was a desperate and clueless manager when he made this claim because no one can guarantee champions league football in December.

    That he now has proudly claims that he has guaranteed the club European football is insulting the intelligence of Liverpool fans - Liverpool wouldn't even have Europa League football if Portsmouth's finances hadn't imploded so catastrophically, yet bizarrely it appear Benitez is trying to take praise for this slice of fortune, rather than acknowledging his own dreadful failure.

    Benitez claim 'expectations were too high' - is 4th place in the league really hoping for too much? I wonder how many Liverpool fans agree with him?

    Benitez has reduced a once great footballing side into a team full of largely mediocre players who play tedious defensive football, and he's spent a lot of fan's money doing so. If the man had any decency he'd resign straight after the Hull game.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/l/liverpool/8414652.stm

  • Comment number 58.

    I feel a lot of sympathy for Liverpool fans. Of all clubs in the country Liverpool fans have been the most bitter towards the rise of Chelsea. I do feel a sense of poetic justice that their club should be the one to fall behind of the top 4. But being a Chelsea fan, with not a drop of bitter blood in me I do hope that Liverpool come back quickly to keep the league competetive.

    It is time people learned to respect Chelsea. People laugh at us changing managers so often. They should first look at the options that were presented to us and the outcome of the decisions that the club took on those occasions. The net result is that we have stayed competitive, challenged for trophies and won some despite the change of managers. From the business point of view the club is growing and remains a well managed club.

    Where did it go so wrong for Benitez and Liverpool? The answer is simple: an obsession with buying and selling players. Looking at Liverpool today it is hard to understand how a club that boasted such top players 3-4 seasons ago should end up with this bunch of no-names. The route of the problem lies in Benitez's inability to accept that sometimes it is not the players that are the problem. There were times when all he needed was consolidate and develop his tactics, game plans; instead he chopped and changed. Its like saying, its that player and that player who are cramping my style.

    I can't see any way forward for Benitez. He will never have the quality in his squad that he had only a couple of seasons ago. The money simply isn't there, and Benitez must take part of the blame for that.

  • Comment number 59.

    Benitez must go. He cannot make the excuse for lack of funds. He has spent vast somes compared to Spurs, Villa et all during his tenure and produced a team that only last season, challenged for the title. His tactics are always negative, one striker up front. He tries to build the team around certain key players e.g. to accomodate Gerrard and Torres. To win the league you can never do this, you have to have a proper system and ensure the players fit into it. This he has failed to do and constantly plays players out of position e.g Kuyt, Lucas, Johnson, Benayoun. For a club of Liverpool's size he has failed miserably.

  • Comment number 60.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 61.

    I give up on the 19th title. we have seen some blank/ tired performances from Man. Utd. this season. Still I cannot blame them, though I have to point out that the substitutes/reserves have to be mentored to be able to have a run of games that allows "senior" players to rest (case in point- Pat Evra).

  • Comment number 62.

    As a chelsea supporter I used to fear Rafa's Liverpool, not any more.
    The key to chelseas success this season is Frank Lampard who turns a good team into an outstanding one by continually getting more than 20 goals a season from midfield. At this rate he will soon be chelseas all time top goalscorer.

  • Comment number 63.

    First of all, let's get one thing straight. Anyone who thinks Liverpool did not try, or that Steven Gerrard was somehow secretly happy about the mistake that gifted Chelsea a goal because it hurt Manchester United is utterly deluded.

    He is a professional footballer and he made a mistake. Once players take to the pitch they do everything they can to win, and to suggest otherwise is a slur on their professionalism and honesty.

    Liverpool's problem yesterday was that they are an average side - and to make matters worse they were a tired side after their Europa League exit.

    These are all problems that need to be addressed this summer. What are Liverpool fans thoughts on the future of the club, and of more immediate interest, the future of Rafael Benitez? All the feelings I got at Anfield yesterday were that his tenure is coming to a close.

    He also had plenty of opportunities to give a firm commitment to the club and flatly refused to do so.

    If he is to go, who would you like to come in? And keep it realistic on the basis that Jose Mourinho is unlike to come with Liverpool in their current condition.

    And Chelsea fans...will Carlo Ancelotti finally banish the ghost of Mourinho from Stamford Bridge if he wins that league, and then of course the FA Cup?

  • Comment number 64.

    56. At 09:39am on 03 May 2010, dogeared wrote:
    Had Liverpool made the Europa final, and they came within one bad offside call of doing so, then this blog would be irrelevant.

    That's how close it was between a reasonable season and a poor one, but I'd expect nothing else from the chief cynical sports writer.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------
    I would expect something more balanced from a contributor about the end of season. 7th place finish and you are disputing the fact it's been a dreadful dreadful season for you, in light of last seasons second place. If it's one offside is going to make or break your season, stick to the cup competitions.....

  • Comment number 65.

    So, it looks like the title will be given for Drogba's offside goal. Don't mention any other "well Man Utd this, Man Utd that" - If that goal hadn't been given Chelsea would have 2 points less, Man Utd 1 more. So, shouldn't the referee and linesman of that game be lifting the trophy, not Chelsea or MUFC as it was they who have decided where the title will go?

  • Comment number 66.

    I think it would probably be for the best if Rafa went now as his tenure now seems to have gone stale & I am not sure he has the heart now to turn it round.

    I did laugh at how disingenuous the blogger's comments are regarding his press conference answers were. Yes of course if rafa said he was staying for the next 4 years that would have been readily accepted by the media & never questioned again wouldn't it, we all know that don't we !!!.

    Rafa has made many mistakes, but the main overriding mistake has been the owners pulling any funding from 2008 onwards. He has I believe a net spend of £2m over the past 4 transfer periods which is unfortunately not going to keep a side competitive at the very top level of the Prem.The blogger also mentions last pre-season signings but what he does not acknowledge is that Arbeloa had only a year on his contract & there were very few dissenting voices when he was signed but hindsight is always 20:20 isn't it. Rafa was also told that the Alonso monies would be available to him but this was of course pulled & Aquilani only really viable as he only needed a 5m euro downpayment.

    I had to laugh at the Dave Kitson article , and wondered what his persecution complex would have been like if he had to put up with the rubbish aimed at him that Benitez has had.

    As I said it would probably be best for all concerned if he moved on, but when you look at his cv you do wonder if we might look back & think that we should have been careful what we wished for, particularly if we end up with a 62 year old manager with the proud boast of having the worst away record of any team who have been in the Prem for all of the last 3 years. But he is English I suppose, so that's OK.

  • Comment number 67.

    First of all, let's get one thing straight. Anyone who thinks Liverpool did not try, or that Steven Gerrard was somehow secretly happy about the mistake that gifted Chelsea a goal because it hurt Manchester United is utterly deluded.

    He is a professional footballer and he made a mistake. Once players take to the pitch they do everything they can to win, and to suggest otherwise is a slur on their professionalism and honesty.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I would have to respectfully disagree with you. Examining your argument you are in fact stating that professionals only ever give 100% and focus. Where that to be true, the notion of throwing a game, blackmail, and even the word devious, would not exist. This is the real world. I am not stating Gerrard threw the match. But I am not an naieve romantic with my head in the clouds either. For all I know the leauge is fixed and United didn't try against Chelsea.
    I agree that the thrust of your point however, that those thinking the game was thrown are being rediculous. Of they are. That doesn't mean that intelligent people cannot be forced to question what the see and that in doing so, draw typical conclusions. It wouldn't be the first conspiracy theory the world has known, you yourself mentioned the grassy knoll did you not?
    "As the conspiracy theorists gathered on Sunderland's Grassy Knoll, what would you have given to have been in earshot of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson"
    Why would you even write this if somewhere deep in your psyche you are not acknowledging that however unlikely, it's alwasy a possibility that a player can be got to?

  • Comment number 68.

    "People are saying, if we win we will be the best of the worst bunch? But how can this be true? Injury ravaged season for top 3."

    No mate, its quite true. Chelsea are the winners of the worst premier league in years. Try and justify it as you no doubt will, Chelsea are the best of an atrocious bunch. Nobody deserves the trophy after the displays from this season, its been disgraceful.

    Also, Chelsea weren't injury ravaged this season, do me a favour! Manu weren't injury ravaged either (even though they love to point out they played 1 or 2 games without their entire defence, my heart bleeds for them...) So no, Chelsea cannot use the "injuries" fact to big up their EPL win. I would say that Chelsea should really have wrapped up the league a month ago, but kept squandering their opportunities; Not the mark of true champions in my opinion.

  • Comment number 69.

    47. At 08:56am on 03 May 2010, mikethemanc wrote:
    liverpool were a disgrace to their history and also the premiership, an utter gutless performance, tantamount to cheating, thank god they are in freefall!

    ==============================================

    Oh yeah - and Steve Bruce's teams always make it difficult for Man U to get 3 points don't they!

  • Comment number 70.

    I don't hear United fans complaining about the way Sunderland played yesterday....
    ----------
    The only complaint we had of Sunderland was of some of their over the top challenges particularly Cattermole and Malbranque. Jonny Evans can be fortunate he still has his leg in one piece.

  • Comment number 71.

    I do not think Ancelotti wahtever we win this season will banish the ghost of Mourinho. It wasn't just winning the league that he gave us but made us feel invincible.

    Chelsea legends team from my 40 years
    Peter Bonetti
    Ron Harris
    John Terry
    Micky Droy
    Joey Jones
    Dennis Wise (Capt)
    Alan Hudson
    Frank Lampard
    Zola
    Peter Osgood
    Charlie Cooke

    sub Vialli
    Manager Mourinho

  • Comment number 72.

    First I don't doubt Liverpools professionalism (although if doing so is the Slur that Phil suggests surely such a slur would be libel and thus the posts should not have passed moderation?) however you could tell yesterday that the Fans certainly weren't behind their team.

    How many times have Liverpool managers and players talked about the supporters vocal support as driving and motivating them to great things? So where was the motivation yesterday? It is obvious that the fans had no desire to see there team win yesterday if you read the discussion boards and I belive that lack of support affected the players.

    Can you blame the fans? No, but it is ironic that a team that prides itself on being a "big club" should fall out of the top four and resort to the tactics of "small clubs" - ie supporting anyone but your rival - all in the same season.

    For Phil to say liverpool are average I do find ammusing though, they only sold 1 player from last year and 1 player doesn't make a team. They were average yesterday, they are however a better than average team, poorly led, both onfield by Gerrard, and off it by Benetiz. I bet that Any manager of any of the top 4 teams in the PL could have done better with liverpools players this season than benitez has, that is why so many Man U fans are hoping the guy stays!

    And on Benitez leaving his comments are looking more and more like a spoilt footballers attempts to get a pay rise. He moaned last week that no-one had discussed his future. Why would they? You only signed a massive contract a year ago! How would he react if it was one of his players doing what he is doing? Ok well maybe the question should be how would one of the top 4 managers react? They would not be impressed you can bet on that!

    Finally Congratulations to Chelsea (said with no bitterness or bile) I believe over the season you have been the better team - not that I'm not hoping that Wigan get somthing next week mind you - but should you win your final game you will be deserved Champions.

    Both Utd and Chelsea have had lots of injuries this season, which is why I believe we have both been so inconsistant at times, Chelsea however have had a small edge most of the season, and that showed at Old Trafford, which I believe will come to be seen as the defining match of the season (not yesterday's poor fayre) It was said then that the winner would win the league, and it is obvious now that that prediction has come true and that had the result been reversed the prediction would still have been true.

    So well done and hopefully your manager won't get sacked for not winning the CL and battle will recommence in a few months in what will hopefully be another epic season.

  • Comment number 73.

    I think the fact that Benitez has yet to speak to the new Chairman at Liverpool speaks volumes. I think he will be going and would not be sorry to see him go. However, he is only part of the problem. We need to sort the ownership question out quickly and get proper backing so we can move forward on a new stadium. Like other posters have said - shame on Moores and Parry for selling the club to a pair of cowboys.

  • Comment number 74.

    Now this basis that Rafa has spent numerous amount of millions is a fair enough asumption, but people are failing to realise the bigger picture. When rafa took over, liverpool were at best an average side that slightly improved under the Houllier regime. Now the likes of Arsenal and Man Utd had been successful for a number of years, more so Utd.

    Now for us to even contemplate challenging, we would need serious investment, which by all counts, wasn't enough! He had to buy here and there and do what he could with the existing squad until the following year. Now after a couple of season, these buys not only have to settle into the English game but also Rafa's way of management on the pitch, which we all know must work seeing as Valencia broke the Barcelona/Real Madrid stanglehold.

    People never seem to grasp that because Utd and Arsenal at the time already had quality sides, they only needed to tweak their teams, yet they were spending the exact same money for less amount of players. Chelsea when they broke into title challengers, how much money did they need to spend to get close to challenging, it was certainly a lot more than what liverpool could ever spend.

    Some of Rafa's signings though have been a bit unusual to say the least, buying a right back for £17 million in my eyes, was at the time a stupid buy, when everyone could see we needed more clinical strikers, seeing as we only have one. Aquilani is another weird purchase, yes he may be using the fact that he didn't want him to be injured again or that he was introducing him to the English game, but you can only learn if you play.

    What i'm trying to say is that the other so called "Big 4" apart from chelsea, only had to tweak their already successful teams, whereas Liverpool had to do a complete overhaul to be just as successful, but people compare the same amount of transfer money that has exchanged hands, unfair analsys on Rafa's part in my opinion.

  • Comment number 75.

    I am not a United fan but at 7/1, I would still suggest its worth a punt.

    Why ?

    Well those who felt Liverpool represented Chelsea's hardest game must have been basing their facts on last season. Birmingham, Man City going for 4th, or Everton (hate Utd less than Liverpool, and beating Chelsea to see Liverpools record broken would have been incentive) would all have been far harder games, so yesterday's result was more predictable.

    Next week ?

    Well, Chelsea have taken 18/18 against last seasons top4, so why are they still not champions ? Because they have faltered against the lower teams, including Wigan

    The pressure is all on Chelsea, if United score the first goal next week, that pressure will mount. Even if Chelsea go 1-0 up, Bolton showed not so long ago that they are living on their nerves, the longer it goes without a secong goal, the more the nerves will be frayed

    Lets also not forget, there is no pressure on a Wigan side that has beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool this season. Ok, those results were at home but until this season, Wigan had not beaten any of the old top 4 since coming up to the Premiership so they have progressed.

    It is not a foregone conclusion, in the hysteria of yesterday's win, the difficulty of this weeks game has maybe been overlooked.

  • Comment number 76.

    Oh and one other thing, Benitez is saying today that the expectations for this season were too high.

    Would these be the expectations that he fuelled when he said they could improve on last season with their new signings? Or maybe it's the expectations set by the "guarantee" of Champions league football next season? Perhaps even from all his talk of lifting the Eurpoa Trophy?

    Or are we really to believe that 7th (or maybe 6th) was the best that could be done this season? They may only get to the Europa league next season because Pompey went into administration! But I'm sure that Benitez knew this before the season started and it was silly of fans and pundits alike to expect better!

  • Comment number 77.

    A sound analysis Phil as always but in many ways we've been hearing this all season. The selling of Alonso-surely a huge mistake but one which can be laid entirely at Rafa's door after his wheeling and dealing to try and get Barry in the summer of 2008. Some of his signings are very questionable too and his priorities. As you rightly say Johnson was a bought for a hugely inflated price and we still owe Pompey money!

    Aquilani although a decent touch player was way over-priced for someone carrying a major injury. Im not sure he has what it takes for the EPL but we'll see next season. However the main cause of our demise was the bottling of the pivatol moment last summer. The lack of new transfer funds for a striker and right winger -exactly what we needed last summer was the key. With no quality back-up for Torres we were always going to struggle with a player who had played non-stop for 2 years.

    In my view the owners together with Rafa's poor man management and his cautious tactics have been the main factors determining how this season unfolded. How else can you explain such a dire season. In not buying last summer we committed the equivalent of Houllier's mad spending spree in 2002, the last pivatol summer in LFC's history. The owners first said that any increases in contracts would deplete Rafa's transfer budget then changed their minds in Jan. Is this anyway to run a business let alone a football club? Rafa's selections and tactics leave a lot to be desired. His tactic of pulling everyone back for opposition corners, playing players out of position and the never to be forgotten Stoke game in Jan where he played 8 (yes 8) outfield defensive players. Rafa has a habit of being more worried about the opposition then they should be of us. Apart from what that must do to his own players, heaven knows what sort of psychological boost it must give our opponents. Stoke players must have been thinking that Liverpool (Liverpool!) were more worried about them!

  • Comment number 78.

    'The second place finish last season that led to so much optimism - and wildly inaccurate predictions from some '

    Not exactly scoffing on that humble pie then?

  • Comment number 79.

    Phil you're looking at Liverpool's performance very naively, yes they may have tried but you simply can't argue that they put 100% into the game.

    Fulham were tired and had even less to play for but still went out and won the game. Had the Carragher incident taken place at Anfield against United (or any other team for that matter) I think his and other's reactions may have been somewhat different.

    And for the people criticising Sunderland, did you even watch the game? If you did you certainly wouldn't have the gall to accuse them of making things easy for United, as thecat says the tackles by Cattermole and in particular the one on Evans by Malbranque were lucky not to recieve red cards.

    And fairground, there were three penalty incidents in that game, all of them debatable. The offside was clear. Was Macheda's 'throw'?

    You're right about the sour grapes though, I really just don't like Chelsea. And I'm not sure why any football fan in the modern game would!

  • Comment number 80.

    Chelsea are not champions yet. I remember the Champions League final in 2008 where they were one penalty away from their holy grail, to be taken by the man with nerves of steel, 'Mr. Chelsea,' Terry himself.
    We all know what happened then.
    Can you imagine what sort of articles would have appeared before he stepped up if for whatever reason we had enough time in between penalties for the bloggers to post?
    It ain't over til' it's over.
    And on Benitez, I'd sack him, but how much would it cost? Juventus failed to qualify for Champions League football, so will he jump? I don't think so. To pay off the remaining years on his contract may be to go without £20 million in the transfer funds for the next manager. They may just have to risk it.

  • Comment number 81.

    at 20: "Gerard Houllier was lost the plot towards the end of his tenure, but the facts are that he delivered Champions League football in his outgoing season, unlike Benitez if this turns out to be his last season in charge. Houllier also delivered more silverware, and for less money spent."
    -----------------

    Yes! I have always wondered whether Houllier, for all his faults, was actually quite a success at Liverpool, and much more than Rafa. I do not necessarily question Rafa's success while at Valencia (I was an admirer of the team they had around the year 2000), but his results at Liverpool, even considered the difficulties, leave a lot to be desired.

    Another poster suggests most of the trouble/decline for Liverpool started in 2007. Wouldn't that be the time most of Houllier's work have evaporated and the team became distinctly Rafa's? And hadn't, years before, Rafa at Valencia in fact inherited a wonderful squad of Hector Raul Cúper, and left it much worse off? He did, didn't he?

    I would say he can manage a good squad and squeeze a few results. Not everyone can do even that. I would also say that he actually isn't too good at putting a good squad together, whatever the resources. I am not shouting he is an awful coach - just that he is one whom you bring in for a year or two, not five, and certainly not for a decade.

    Speaking about squads, real squad quality is reflected at what can the team put out in the final moments of the season, and what results can they achieve.

    This was basically Houllier's eleven on the pitch at the end of 2005's final:

    Dudek - Hamann, Traore, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Luis Garcia, Alonso, Smicer, Cisse

    Not worldbreakers, but would you say they can, with some luck, deliver a result against a top side when it mattters?

    And this is Rafa's eleven at the end of this years' last match in Europe:

    Reina - Johnson, Agger, Carragher, El Zhar, Gerrard, Pacheco, Degen, Lucas, Kuyt, Babel

    Rafa has such a squad that in a decisive game of the season, he has to do with this. Yes, Torres was injured, but shouldn't a squad cope with the injury to one player without looking pathetic? Two of Pool's players went out of that game in 2005 with injury. With forced substitutions like that, was the success that of the current manager, or that of the squad?

    Giving him another four years would not change things for the better. I am sure he would nead pots and pots of money to turn it around - now he was talking about 5-6 players, and he was right. This squad is pants and he knows it - but it was him who build it. He is not the one to find talent and let it blossom. He will not bring in cheap, new players, that would become class. He will not even mold slightly above average players into a solid team, which is what you could use most. IF you throw 100m at him, maybe he can do something to give you top 4 finish again, otherwise - mediocrity becons.

  • Comment number 82.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 83.

    I still remember chuckling at Phil McNulty's Premiership predictions, last August - on the link below.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/philmcnulty/2009/08/chelsea_and_manchester_united.html

  • Comment number 84.

    This is what makes me so proud to be a United fan.

    Since our draw at Blackburn when it looked like curtains (oh how I wish we'd won that game now) we have won at City, (which only Everton have done also), beaten Tottenham comfortably, and beaten Sunderland, fairly easily, although the scoreline didn't indicate this.

    We have made a real battle of this, and should we just fall short this time you can't really be dissapointed, when you hav ewon your last (hopefully 4 games) and made a real battle of it.

    Good work lads!

    Look forward to seeing Nani developing further next year!

  • Comment number 85.

    Its in the bag for Chelsea now. Still want United to beat up Stoke for the way they capitulatd against Chelsea.

    Save Rafa!

  • Comment number 86.

    Liverpool weren't up to much against United either and really do need a change of plan and leadership.Chelsea fans can't take Wigan for granted, they will want to spoil our party, we must be ruthless to the very final whistle. I think Chelsea need to demolish Wigan from the outset. There can be no room for any complaceny, we have to focus, fight and finish. It's simple, if we apply ourselves we are a better side than Wigan as United are against Stoke. We have to be psychologically strong as well as physical. We are playing great football, scoring goals and beating the best in England home and away..we need to seal the deal on Saturday. The media are building us up and singing the praises of Ancellotti but these same people will gather like Piranha if we fail! Wigan and Portsmouth have nothing to lose, we have everything to gain and must fight harder than ever.

  • Comment number 87.

    As a United fan, I have always said that the team that wins the PL is the best team that year - and I see no reason to change my opinion if Chelsea go on and win it this season.

    I believe that Chelsea had the benefit of some borderline decisions against United this season, but that cannot be used as excuses - over the season these tend to even out, however hard they are to take at the time. I also believe that Chelsea had the better of the match schedules - playing a potentially difficult match against a (being polite) demoralised Liverpool was a gift and, whatever anyone says, Liverpool were not too bothered about getting anything from that match yesterday (just ask the unbiased(!) Alan Green for his opinion on this matter).

    Overall, if Chelsea do go on and win the PL then congratulations to them and well done. They will have deserved it.

  • Comment number 88.

    Honesty and professionalism!
    I remember Phil Neville scoring a classic own goal in a game against United when united was down and Chelsea winning in 2006/2007 season. That gave the title to United and denied Mourinho's Chelsea the 3rd title.

    I remember Alan Curbishley, a day before a title deciding game against united, saying that it would be a great injustice if united doesn't win the title. I remember on many occasions Lancashire clubs gifting united cheap wins in crucial matches.

    And Phil want's us all to believe that players and teams always play to win? You don't live on earth.

  • Comment number 89.

    As a Chelsea fan I won't be celebrating until we actually lift the trophy!
    Doesn't anyone else remember what happened on the 26th of September last year? Wigan 3 - 1 Chelsea!

    I think almost everyone has lost faith in Rafa now, and the longer he stays, the deeper Liverpool's troubles will become.

  • Comment number 90.

    53. At 10:43am on 11 Aug 2009, you wrote:
    "(surely the return of Patrick Vieira came from the realms of romance rather than realism)"
    I feel the same way about Owen at United.

    "but the real wild card is club record signing Christian Benitez"
    Vickery would seem to disagree

    Burnely will do better than you rate them. You only have to look at how the played in more than one match against top opposition last year. They will finish high up this season and slump next season.

    I think liverpool blew it last time out and missing Alonso will have more of an effect than United missing Livperpool.
    You have once again Vastly underestimated Alex Ferguson. The title is Uniteds for the loosing this season. I actually expect, genuinely to see a more cavalier style of play and to see them crush teams this year.
    Pretty much in agreement for the relegation crowd, but I think Hull will do okay.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Pretty much amazed to be able to go back and read what I wrote at the start of the season. I guess I was as right/wrong as yourself phill, I thought Burnley would keep a hold of Coyle and I thought Hull would be okay. I also predicted Better for United than you did, I got that one spot on I would say.
    Strange in the days of the internet that what we write is so available to come back and haunt us 12 months later. How do you feel in General about your predos for the season, ( not just the liverpool one which has been done and dusted), it's interesting to have a look back and see what happened.

  • Comment number 91.

    rastafairy5 wrote:
    So, it looks like the title will be given for Drogba's offside goal. Don't mention any other "well Man Utd this, Man Utd that" - If that goal hadn't been given Chelsea would have 2 points less, Man Utd 1 more. So, shouldn't the referee and linesman of that game be lifting the trophy, not Chelsea or MUFC as it was they who have decided where the title will go?
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    let us take exactly the same basis of your ignorant bitter argument, and say that if Macheda's handball goal hadn't have been given we would have been beaten you 2-0.

    Now run along won't you!

  • Comment number 92.

    Liverpool need a complete overhaul if they're going to become competitive again anytime soon. Let Juventus take Benitez off their hands, hopefully waiving the rest of his contract, pick up £20-30 million for Gerrard while you still can and £50-60 million for Torres and get a new manager in capable of spending that sort of money, not to jump on the bandwagon but they wouldn't go far wrong with Hodgson.

  • Comment number 93.

    Well done to Chelsea first and foremost, but less said about Liverpool's performance the better.They were just not up to scratch. It echo's their performance troughout the season "average".They just not a top 4 team any more and needs to make drastic changes to their playing staff if they want to be a top tier team. At the moment they just happy to pip Everton and beat Man United once in a while.Where's the ambition,where was their pride. Unfortunately history means nothing without honour. Meester 7

  • Comment number 94.

    And Chelsea fans...will Carlo Ancelotti finally banish the ghost of Mourinho from Stamford Bridge if he wins that league, and then of course the FA Cup?
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    I think he will, and rightly so, but I also think it is fair to say we will never feel totally invincible under Ancelotti.

    Under Jose we did!

  • Comment number 95.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 96.

    I think this last game is going to go a long way in showing the character of the Chelsea team and the manager. Going into the game with mouriniho youd expect some offensive, but the emphasis would be in not conceding. If we play like we have in the last few games though, we are capable of destroying teams like wigan (with all due respect) because our best players now have the freedom to play great football up front.

    Dont get me wrong, im not writing Wigan off for a minute. Nzogbia and rodellga (cant spell) are two huge talents and are able to pull something special out of the bag when needed. Im just glad we have Cole and Ivanovich back, its great having a defense pretty much back to full strength. And Alex has been a revelation

  • Comment number 97.

    I find it strange a club that records of couple of wins by scoring 7 and no heavy defeat all season can't start feeling invincible. It must be remembered though that this is Not Ancellotti's team. He hasn't yet put his stamp on it, by bringing in players. Next season will be make or break for him. Will they buy in the summer and who? The same could be asked of Untied, Van de Sar while still reliable is probably in his penulitimate season, and what of Scholes Giggs and Neveille, will they still be on the field at the final game next season? I doubt it.
    There will be changes at both clubs, but I genuinely feel the only club going to threathen the top 3 next season is Spurs OR City. Villa don't have it. Everton could be dark horses, and it depends what happens close season with City, Tevez is already bored I think and looking for a better deal.

  • Comment number 98.

    Glad to know that Mr McNulty has this superhuman insight into what goes on in Gerrard's head. I'd like that ability. The most generous thing you could say about Liverpool yesterday was that they were not 100% fully committed (before yesterday I thought that Wigan were our best bet to take points off Chelsea anyway!). Is this an excuse for United? No. I think that they've played some bad stuff this season and I'm surprised that they're still it in on the final day.

    Fact is, when title races are this close, people always start going on about lucky this or decision that. Someone once said that football is 80% luck and I'm not sure that they were far wrong. In a close title race luck will be the deciding factor. Always will be. Over 38 games with a slim margin at the top you cannot say one team has been significantly more skilful than another. But what you can say is that they won the Premier League.

  • Comment number 99.

    This season has seen a levelling out at the top caused by the financial shift to Man C. For that reason the premiership hs been harder to win and kept going to the last day and three involved until very recently.
    Man U lost Ronaldo and Tevez and have gone back. They also depend on ageing players maybe more than Chelsea: Van der sar, neville, giggs, scholes...
    Liverpool lost Alonso and have insufficient strength in depth
    Arsenal remain lightweight.
    Chelsea strengthened their squad with Zhirkov and have looked the best over the season despite the lapses.
    Chelsea struggled against some of the lower sides but so did Man U. Picking up only one point from Man C and Everton in four games is what really kept the title open. Whilst they should have done better, in itself those results are no disgrace.
    Whoever wins the title deserves it. Chelsea have been the best team this year but if they slip up against Wigan, United will deserve it for their doggedness.
    am still a bit surprised to hear people say that United deserved to win at Chelsea. How does a team deserve to win if it can't score?
    The Drogba goal at OT was offside no doubt, but Macheda was handball. Just cos it was harder to spot doesn't make it any less illegal.

  • Comment number 100.

    A few points:-

    Watching Match of the Day 2 last night, Rafa was asked the question about his future, replying with something along the lines of "I have 4 years left on my contract and so will sit down at the end of the season and make decisions on players"

    That to me sounds like a man who answered the question - albeit you can say those that refer to their contracts usually are fired or end up leaving - but it sounded like he answered the question to me.

    Secondly, Liverpool, if they are sold to Dubai Capital should have cash to spend next season, DIC are not like the joker Al Fahim who took over Portsmouth (having lived in Dubai and seen how his "Billions" existed on paper and most of that was plucked from thin air anyway - with various police investigations into his affairs - not just the one reported here in the UK) therefore they will be able to bring in players of a calibre more befitting Liverpool's illustrious history.

    Although speaking to a few Liverpool fans I know, they are not sure if they want Rafa to be in charge of a large transfer kitty in the summer. They point out, correctly, that he got them to second last season, but they also say he made bad decisions in the summer which ultimately have cost them this season. That's pretty much my view, although I support Chelsea, so I have no real problem if he stays or goes.

    Thirdly, the people on here harping on about Drogba's offside goal being allowed to stand - yes it was offside. We all can agree on that. But you will also have to concede that Macheda handled to score their "goal". As the score was already 0-1 as Joe Cole had scored, those two cancel each other out - as do the one penalty shout apiece that were not given. We still would have won the game 0-1.

    No real Chelsea fan is taking the Wigan game for granted, especially after they royally turned us over when we visited them earlier this season. Maybe we didn't turn up (I only saw highlights) but take nothing away from them, they outplayed us on that day. We cannot afford to play like we did yesterday against them, or we will lose.

    Liverpool will be back next season, Chelsea in the 1996/7 and a couple of times in the 2000's fell to 6th then got to 4th, so its highly probable they will bounce back. Don't write them off just yet.


 

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