The Spanish Inquisition: Should Rafael Benitez's Job Be Under Threat?

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The Spanish Inquisition: Should Rafael Benitez's Job Be Under Threat?
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Go to Anfield on any given match day and you are guaranteed to hear two things. One is, of course, the rousing rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" before kickoff, while the other takes place during the match itself.

Almost every home match, and the majority of away matches in the past five years, has been witness to the Liverpool faithful chanting Rafael Benitez's name.

He is a cult hero on Merseyside.

Indeed, he has become such a revered figure to the red half that his name is mentioned alongside the likes of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, and Joe Fagan.

In terms of managerial cult hero status, arguably only Shankly can top Benitez.

Why is this so?

Well, he gave Liverpool their greatest moment for over 20 years when he led the Reds to their fifth European Cup in Istanbul. It could even be argued that it was the greatest moment in the club's history.

A year later, he brought the FA Cup back to Anfield, and hopes that the "dark age" was finally over came with it.

Since then, however, no other silverware has arrived in the Anfield trophy room.

Still, though, Benitez retains the unflinching support of the vast majority of Liverpool fans.

In a similar trophy-less period, even Arsene Wenger at Arsenal is starting to come under pressure.

The reason for the continued support of Benitez is the progress being made in the league.

For 20 years, Liverpool have been searching for their elusive 19th league title, a search made all the more frustrating and urgent by Manchester United's domination and increasing title count.

Every season under Benitez has raised beliefs that Liverpool could end that wait, culminating this preseason, when the Reds were many people's favourites to claim the title.

A poor start to the season, including two early losses, however, has caused most of those people to change their predictions, and has even led to some saying Liverpool will be lucky to stay in the top four.

While these sorts of overreactions this early in the season are ludicrous, Liverpool's poor start is unavoidable.

Naturally, there have been scapegoats, most notably Lucas Leiva. Benitez himself has criticised the senior players in the Liverpool squad, including captain Steven Gerrard.

He said the tactics weren't to blame; the players on the pitch were, effectively pointing the finger everywhere but himself.

Is this fair? Or is Benitez actually to blame?

Well, some would argue that it was Benitez's transfer dealings that have caused the poor start.

Xabi Alonso's departure was a big blow, and the Spanish midfielder has since said that Benitez's willingness to get rid of him last summer in order to bring in Gareth Barry contributed to his decision to leave for Madrid.

Replacing him with a player who he knew wouldn't be fit for the start of the season raised eyebrows, to say the least.

Others may argue that it is Benitez's rigid tactical plans that are hurting Liverpool.

His refusal to adjust his formation has led to the inclusion of Lucas, who has since attracted a lot of unfair criticism for his performances.

Not only that, but the lack of variation when it comes to substitutes could be called into question. Between the 60- and 70-minute mark, Benitez almost always makes a change.

This lack of diversity in both the tactical plans and the substitutions has made Liverpool predictable and thus easy to counter.

An away team knows exactly what they have to do if they know exactly what the home team is going to do.

However, a common description of the likes of Garrincha and Stanley Matthews was that you knew exactly what they were going to do, but you still couldn't stop it.

More often than not, thanks to players the quality of Gerrard and Fernando Torres, this is the case with Liverpool.

Benitez's tactics are tried and tested, and they have worked so far. Why stop now?

The title of this piece asked whether Rafael Benitez's job should be under threat.

The answer, for me, is simple: No.

The question of will it be under threat, however, is very different. The answer to that, especially should Liverpool fail to beat Burnley next Saturday, may well be yes.

Benitez has a famously rocky relationship with the Liverpool owners, and with the importance of money created by success greater than ever, any hint of failing to meet the expected standards will spawn pressure.

But it is Benitez who has raised those standards to the highest they have been for two decades. Can he really be held fully accountable should he fail to meet them just once?

Indeed, even if the season was to carry on in this way and Liverpool struggle to make the top four, is one underachieving season enough to negate the work of five good seasons?

I know for a fact the opening three weeks of a season isn't.

Were it not for Benitez, Liverpool would be regularly hoping for fourth spot, not thinking of it as a worst-case scenario.

Rafael Benitez's job should not be under threat until there is continued and definite regression.

Unfortunately, the reality is that rightly or wrongly, lightly or strongly, anything other than a win against Burnley will lead to questions over his future.

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