Tonight’s clash between two of the most famous clubs in Europe ‘“ a mouthwatering display of some of the best players in the world, is being overshadowed something rotten. There seems to be a common consensus in the British newspapers this morning that tonight’s Champions League second round clash in the Spanish capital is actually a last chance for Rafa Benitez to show his worth to the club he supported as a boy ‘“ a job interview at Real, if you like. And that’s a shame.
Juande Ramos’ recent rejuvenation of Real Madrid which has seen them go on a run of nine wins domestically, including the weekend’s 6-1 demolition of Real Betis has convinced the papers that the former Spurs boss is at the Bernabeu to stay. Benitez’s recent lack of form with Liverpool has cost him the admiration of the Spanish giants. John Edwards of this morning’s Daily Mail writes:
They are not renowned for accepting excuses at Real and it hardly portrayed Benitez in the right light when he reflected on Liverpool’s faltering title push and claimed he was being made to carry the can for two decades of failure in the league.
Rafael Benitez was playing deadpan last night, denying all suggestions that a return to the club which has defined him since his father first found him a way in as a 12-year-old, might hold some emotional significance. But actions speak louder than words. Benitez came alive at the Bernabeu, grinning as he translated his own answers into English and Spanish, and there is little doubt that an evening of Champions League football against Real Madrid tonight is one of huge personal significance.
There’s a couple of things just so so wrong here though, and the papers need to turn their attentions from this idea that Benitez is somehow auditioning for the Real job tonight and back to the task in hand. Liverpool need to go to Spain tonight and get a result that will stand them in good stead to knock the nine times European Champions out of the competition at Anfield in two weeks time.
Also, as much as I don’t want to point this out, what makes the papers so sure Real have got the manager they’re going to stick with? They sacked both Fabio Capello and Bernd Schuster shortly after they had each won La Liga. But here they are, still several points behind runaway leaders Barcelona. Ramos was also signed after a disastrous career at Tottenham Hotspur I’m sure he’d like to forget. So newspapers of the world, realise that Real Madrid’s mindframe when appointing managers just doesn’t work in the same way as everyone else. 10 managers in 10 years backs my claim up.
But he’s ours anyway. And tonight he will be ours. And tonight he will be giving his expertise to guide us to a much needed victory. Not only in terms of our Champions League campaign, but to give us a boost going into the final crucial 12 games of the Premier League season. The title is still in grasp.
Keep in the faith in Rafa.
Paul Walker of The Scotsman reports on Steven Gerrard‘s inclusion in the squad that has travelled to Madrid and how although it’s a risk for Benitez to play the midfielder, it may be a bigger risk not to.
Gerrard travelled to the Spanish capital with a huge question mark hanging over his damaged hamstring, and whether he could be risked in the first leg of this last-16 clash at the Santiago Bernabeu. With Liverpool’s domestic title challenge hanging by a thread, their continued involvement in the world’s biggest club competition is vital for the rest of their season. And Gerrard is needed to lead from the front if they are going to have any chance against a Madrid side in rampant form, having won their last nine La Liga games.
John Edwards (Daily Mail) paints a lively picture of Barajas Airport in Madrid yesterday when an old face arrived back in town. The local boy hero had returned to inflict damage on his city rivals.
Even their flourescent lime jackets didn’t stand out as much as the former Atletico Madrid striker as one after another thrust an autograph book under his nose or draped an arm round his shoulder for a photograph, each request met with the usual shy smile.
And finally, The Independent lists its choice of the all-time Liverpool dream team. The line-up they have chosen is: Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Alec Lindsay, Billy Liddell, Graeme Souness, Steven Gerrard, Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush. So no Barnes, no Heighway, no Hughes… what do you think? Leave your comment below.
And here’s to hoping tomorrow’s newspaper review will be full of praise for Rafa.