Benítez is a natural-born winner

Posted by Garstonite on September 16, 2005, 09:02:28 PM

Prior to the Real Betis game on Tuesday, I scanned round the various channels on Sky to try and catch any form of news or opinion on the game ahead. All stations seemed to agree that Rafael Benítez had picked a team and adjusted his system in an attempt to get a draw out of the game. Whilst bringing back a point from Seville would not have been a bad result, what was being said was the worst and most ill-informed nonsense that I have heard for a long while.

The simple fact of the matter is that Rafael Benítez does not ‘try’ for a draw. Speaking at the beginning of his first year in charge, the Spaniard said, “I do not know how to play for a draw. I only know how to play for a win. Sometimes you play to win but end up with a draw but that is never our aim.”

Last season’s domestic disappointments aside, Benítez yet again demonstrated his managerial credentials. By winning Europe’s most acclaimed prize, with a squad mainly filled with players that didn’t fit the bill in the previous regime, was nothing short of remarkable. Going down in the history books with the likes of Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan in a mere 11 months is a testament to him. No matter what happens now, nobody will be able to take this away from him.

The transfer market still remains a hot debate among many Liverpool fans despite a good start to the season in both competitions we have played in so far. Football is a lot more complicated than many give it credit for. If Liverpool had signed Simao from Benfica on the last day of the transfer window, it seems, Liverpool fans would lead you to believe that things were rosy.

It is easy to hand out criticism from your armchair or from your seat in the stands but Benítez knows the players a lot more than you or I do. Fans are still cynical over the arrivals of Peter Crouch and Bolo Zenden. OK, they are hardly Adriano and Ronaldinho but they are two players who want to play for Liverpool and are two players who can improve our form on the road. The likelihood is that they will not grab the headlines on the back pages but if they do the job that they have been asked to do successfully, nobody will complain.

If you demand 20 goals this season from Peter Crouch to reach satisfaction then you are going to be let down. I can tell you that now. Goals from a striker like Peter Crouch are not mandatory. What he can bring to the side is different. He will hold the ball up, win balls in the air and allow the midfield to come into play. His Premiership debut, for Liverpool, against Tottenham and, more specifically, his display against Real Betis on Tuesday is an example of what he is capable of.

Many doubt Benítez’s decisions. In his first season in charge, some choices of his were puzzling. Unlike many managers however, he can admit to his mistakes. "What happened against us a lot last season was teams started matches hitting lots of high passes and fighting for the second ball." In signing Mohamed Sissoko, Liverpool are looking a lot more comfortable when not in possession. The Mali International looks a very good signing on early judgement – he tackles, passes safely, has lots of energy and can also get forward when necessary. He is one reason alone why Liverpool are looking better on the road.

Against Middlesbrough and Tottenham, Liverpool have looked a lot less vulnerable when under pressure. Whilst many would naturally prefer to be in the opponents half rather than their own, it is all part and parcel of the game now and sides have to get used to being ‘under the cosh’.

So far this season, Liverpool have picked up five points out of a possible nine, playing once at home and twice away at tough opposition who will set themselves high standards to get into the Champions League. In both away games, Liverpool have had enough chances to get all three points. Boro in particular. Perhaps a tricky winger could have been the difference between one point and three but as I said earlier, it is not always as simple as that. Peter Crouch’s arrival in the summer was intended for such occasions when Liverpool could not put their applied pressure into a statistic.

Chelsea won many of their games 1-0 last season, as we all know. You tend to find that the teams that win the title and are successful tend to win games that they did not play particularly well in. At times, that has been the difference between ourselves and those that have lifted the Premiership crown.

Whilst it is easy to let ourselves get optimistic and be aiming for the Championship, we all know in our heart of hearts that such ambition is sheer hopefulness. We need to close the gap. 37 points off top-spot, no matter how impressive they were, is nothing short of sub-standard. Especially by our standards.

Liverpool fans continually remind of what Benítez achieved when he was at Valencia. “He won the title in his first season”, “he jumped from 5th to 1st” etc. If you insist upon looking back in the archives, then it should be worth mentioning that, during his three-year stint, his transfer activity was minimal. Repeating what Benítez said when defending his choice to not splash the cash, “I only want to sign the best”.

Benítez is a natural-born winner. Various things showed that he stands out from a crowd in his first season. The connection with the fans, mainly due to the Champions League run, is as strong as ever and it is hard to find someone (who doesn’t live in a nut house) who criticises him and can fight their corner admirably.

The only problem he faces is how he will follow up the Champions League win. Unless he pulls out an elephant-sized rabbit out of his hat again, this season is always going to be a step down. Perhaps, in a slightly funny way, that is not entirely a bad thing as it would bring us back down to earth. Benítez’s standards are high though, and no matter where he leads us – we must, and will no doubt, follow.

I shall watch this season unfold and remain to be intrigued as things develop.

© Garstonite 2005

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