Papers eat words; The Rafalution continues

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Newspaper Review: Thursday 26th February, 2009

Well well well. Look who comes crawling back today. The newspapers that earlier this week were so quick to slate Benitez’s state of mind, that were so sure he couldn’t outclass Real Madrid boss Juande Ramos and said he was definitely heading for a swift Anfield exit, today hail him as a hero.

The victory was the result of ‘œsheer tactical forethought’ (The Guardian), and The Times hails Benitez as a miracle worker. Last night’s game was sheer genius and Rafa should take all the credit he will get today, and the players also. For it was a game of terrific workrate that eventually found a reward in Yossi Benayoun’s header eight minutes from time. James Ducker of The Times comments:

They will be very much the favourites to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals by the time the Spanish champions visit fortress Anfield for the second leg on Tuesday week.

There’s more praise for Benitez, ‘œthe master tactician’ from Matt Hughes of The Times. He admits:

Liverpool may trail Manchester United by seven points in the Premier League, but Benítez remains a master tactician in Europe and got his game plan spot on with Liverpool suffocating the opposition. Victory for Benítez came against a club he served as a player and coach for 15 years and one who will now be even keener to try to lure him to the Bernabéu.

Of course had Real Madrid done what they set out to do and take a good first leg advantage back to Anfield for the return leg of the tie on March 10th, this morning’s headlines would be different. We could almost expect headlines of ‘˜Rafa to quit by Friday’ or ‘˜Gillett storms dressing room post-match to sack Benitez’. But no. The papers didn’t get their sensational story.

Ian Herbert of The Independent was in Madrid:

That strategy, taken with Benitez’s, tells you that this collision between two of the masters of European football was always was destined to be about as grey as Picasso’s colour scheme for Guernica. Certainly not a match to tell your grandchildren about in years to come.

All in all a fantastic result and now it will shut the critics and rumour mills of this world up for a bit longer. All eyes turn from Madrid to Middlesbrough now though as a big test of character heads Liverpool’s way. Can they pick up where they left in the Bernabeu and make sure the domestic challenge of the Premier League title isn’t completely over?

Paul Hayward in this morning’s Guardian predicts a completely different Liverpool on Saturday afternoon at the Riverside.

Now for the trip to Middlesbrough. Liverpool, or the Two Liverpools as they should be known, exist in parallel universes where Rafa Benítez’s men can come to the Bernabéu and defeat a Real Madrid side who had won nine consecutive league matches but then motor across northern England to the Riverside with their cherished Premier League ambitions unravelling.

But today let’s bask in the glory of becoming only the second ever British club to win at the Bernabeu. And we scored the winner when we had neither Steven Gerrard or Fernando Torres on the pitch.

The Rafalution continues.

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