Back in November I wrote a very similarly named article following the 3-0 win at St. James’ Park and the impressive performance that day but also the cloud that was then being cast over Rafa Benitez’s future as Liverpool manager.
5 months on that cloud still looms large and a storm engulfs it and many others as we approach a third European Cup semi final in four years.
It is only when you take a look at the first of them semi finals (and indeed the final) and compare the team which Benitez worked wonders with in 2005 to the team and squad he has assembled today. The two are polls apart.
Instead of Fernando Torres up front with 30 goals already to his name for the season you have Milan Baros with 13 goals. For Javier Mascherano see Igor Biscan (who replaced the suspended Xabi Alonso for the return leg), in defence you have Djimi Traore rather than Martin Skrtel.
In fact, the only players likely to start on Tuesday night who were part of the team which defeated Chelsea 1-0 courtesy of Luis Garcia’s early goal are Carragher, Hyypia and Gerrard. It shows the overhaul Benitez has performed and provides another insight into why his work should not be undone by a change of manager this summer.
But it is not only the starting eleven which shows the difference, take the subs bench as an indication of the strength in depth which is being acheived. Tomorrow night Rafa will be able to call on Peter Crouch to add a new problem for the Chelsea defence, while before it was the erratic Djibril Cisse, with Smicer, Nunez and Kewell as other possible replacements. 3 years on Benitez can call on the likes of Yossi Benayoun to potentially change a game or create a new problem, a player with 2 hat-tricks to his name this season.
Take the comparison between young midfielder John Welsh, now struggling to get a game with Hull and recently loaned out to Chester, versus Lucas Leiva – the former Brazilian under 20 captain and Brazilian footballer of the year. With all respect to Welsh, it shows the difference between then and now.
Whatever happens on Tuesday night, the succes of the last three years cannot be underestimated.
In Rafa We Trust
2005 team: Dudek, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Garcia, Hamann, Biscan, Riise, Gerrard, Baros. Subs: Carson, Smicer, Warnock, Welsh, Cisse, Nunez, Kewell.
2008 team (Probable): Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Hyypia, Aurelio, Mascherano, Alonso, Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel, Torres. Subs: Itandje, Finnan, Riise, Crouch, Lucas, Voronin, Benayoun.