Ramos Ruins Rafa’s Real Run

It’s time to turn our discontent and disappointment of our Premier League title challenge off for a few days at least as the Champions League resumes. Of course, questions will continue to be asked about how Liverpool have gone through 36 games of a season, beaten Chelsea twice, Man Utd once and only lost once. But let’s put that aside for a minute as we prepare for what could be a brilliant game of football tomorrow night against Real Madrid.

However, Pete Jenson in this morning’s Daily Mail sees the clash in the Spanish capital as a disappointment to Rafa Benitez, who, he claims, was all set to show to Madrid faithful his potential as manager. However the arrival of Juande Ramos at the Bernabeu has revived a Real Madrid side well off the pace of La Liga leaders Barcelona and brought them into fine form.

Their 6-1 thrashing of Real Betis at the weekend sent out warning signals for Wednesday night’s game, as Liverpool struggled to an unconvincing 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City. Jenson says it is Ramos’ doing that tomorrow night is no longer much of an opportunity for Rafa to show the club he grew up supporting what they’re missing, amid speculation about more contract offers on Merseyside being turned down.

He would surely roll into the Bernabeu, roll over Real and leave the Madrid masses demanding the prodigal son be brought home.

He would then either get a move back to the club where he started his coaching career as B-team boss or, because of the enormous pressure to hang on to him, get the contract he wanted out of Liverpool. Juande Ramos had other ideas.

What a complete load of bullshit, Jenson. Benitez is a professional and his heart is with Liverpool. That’s why he’s still here despite the complete and utter disgraceful and disrespectful way the club’s owners have treated him over the last two years. There has been plenty of opportunity for Madrid to steal Rafa from under our noses, plenty of managerial changes in the Spanish capital.

A very confusing and unnecessary article, indeed. But Jenson makes a point that James Ducker of The Times hints he agrees with.

By putting his contractual situation firmly on the agenda in the week when Liverpool play Real, a club eager to secure his services, Benítez appears to be placing himself in the shop window and knows that the clamour at the Bernabéu to lure him is only likely to increase if Liverpool knock the Spanish side out of the competition.

The Daily Mail also reports about Benitez’s predicament as to whether to bring Steven Gerrard back to action tomorrow night, despite the midfielder having been sidelined for the last three weeks.
John Edwards writes:

Gerrard reported no reaction to a work-out at Melwood on Monday morning, after three weeks on the sidelines, and is believed to have indicated an eagerness to be involved in the opening leg of Liverpool’s Champions League last 16 game at the Bernabeu.

Similarly, John Nisbit of The Independent reports:

Gerrard has been out for three weeks with a hamstring injury but was able to take part in training at Melwood yesterday morning and is poised to travel to the Spanish capital.

But will Rafa take a gamble on playing Gerrard? It would be a huge risk bringing back a player in such a massive game so quickly after injury. After all, he was expected to be sidelined until the second leg on March 10th. Four days later, it’s the crunch league game away to United. On the risk involved, Andy Hunter of The Guardian knows it would be unlike Benitez if he does play a part tomorrow.

Benitez has previously insisted he will take no risks with Gerrard’s fitness but, with Liverpool sorely missing his influence against Manchester City on Sunday, and given the midfielder’s record of 11 goals in his last 15 Champions League games (excluding qualifiers), he now faces a delicate decision on giving the captain his first start since the FA Cup defeat at Everton on 4 February.

For the record, tonight’s Champions League fixtures (all 7.45pm kick-offs) are: Arsenal vs Roma (ex-Red John Arne Riise in action for the Italians), Athletico Madrid vs FC Porto (an outing for Luis Garcia), Inter Milan vs Manchester United (knock ‘˜em off their perch, Mourinho) and Lyon vs Barcelona.