EPL Recap: Stick with a Winner, Rafa
The Premiership returned this weekend after a two-week hiatus—and six weeks into the new campaign, it seems some things never change:
- Jose Mourinho talks an extraordinary amount of rubbish.
- Rafael Benitez seems unable to keep a side unchanged.
- Newcastle United are still ordinary.
- Spurs are thoroughly incapable of keeping a clean sheet.
As this column focuses on Liverpool Football Club, all but one of those traits warrant no more than passing comment.
However, the debate has been raging on the red half of Merseyside as to Benitez’s selection at Portsmouth on Saturday.
Of course, the most famous example of the Spaniard’s selections coming unstuck was the famous FA Cup defeat at Burnley in 2005—in which a team of reserves lost on Djimi Traore’s spectacular own goal.
Rafa’s inability to stick with a winning side is once again dominating the back pages, after he made five changes from the side that won its last match 6-0 while leaving fit-again Steven Gerrard on the bench.
There are two distinct camps in this argument.
The first group suggests that Benitez’s approach has brought success and stability to the club—that rotation allows players to stay fresh and keeps the entire squad happy.
However, this is seemingly a minority opinion after the 0-0 draw at Fratton Park, and it's difficult to see any merit in the selection policy.
It is true that all of the top clubs have at times rotated key personnel, but it's equally true that significant players show up in big games.
It's difficult to imagine a more challenging assignment than a trip to Pompey, given that the club lost only two games at home last season, and have already held Manchester United to a draw there this year.
As many have pointed out,it would surely have been more logical for Rafa to make his changes against Birmingham City at Anfield than away at Portsmouth.
Quite frankly, Mr. Benitez seems to have shown scant respect to Harry Redknapp’s team, and just as little to the Liverpool fans who've made it clear that they see the Premiership as the club’s main priority.
Evidently, Benitez would rather progress in Europe, given his decision to rest players for the Champions’ League tie in Porto on Tuesday night.
The Liverpool manager has spent the initial part of the season sniping at the FA over fixtures and refereeing—to say nothing of his needless verbal jousting with Messrs. Mourinho and Ferguson.
The time has come for Rafa to concentrate on his own club, and on maintaining the momentum that Liverpool built up during a thoroughly impressive start to the campaign.
Speaking of Mr. Mourinho: This column would not exist without some reference to the Ordinary One...and is he really comparing a tight line decision that Andy Gray had to run five or five times to the penalty that his side were awarded at Anfield?
Whether it was offside or not (and for the record I believe it was a goal), I hope that Mourinho has to wait some time for his apology.
Next he’ll have Keith Hackett suspending officials for not giving a corner!
The performance of the week was saved for Monday night—congratulations to Derby County on rebounding from that Anfield defeat to beat Newcastle United, who appeared as hapless under Fat Sam as they have under Souness, Robson, et al.
Another exciting weekend awaits, which will of course be dissected here. I'm sure that Liverpool will field an unchanged side and that Jose and Fergie will have nothing but niceties for each other on Sunday afternoon...
Well, we can dream.
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