Liverpool and Valencia: The Rafael Benitez Parallel

David GoreCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2008

On 5 May 2002, Rafael Benitez led his Valencia team out at La Rosaleda.

The team had been locked away in the days prior to the game, meeting no one and conducting no interviews.

In the minds of every Valencia fan, young or old, waiting to see their team emerge from the Malaga tunnel, were the ghostly images of Di Stefano's team clutching the league trophy in '71, the last time the Che had been champions.

It had been a strange campaign throughout 2001 and 2002. The traditional favourites for the title, Real Madrid and Barcelona, both suffered problems with inconsistency, despite being tipped as certs to fight for first and second.

Valencia themselves had hardly performed with distinction, struggling to break down teams they were predicted to beat, and encountering a disappointing 0-0 home draw against Tenerife along the way. All in all, Valencia had drawn no less than five home matches, and eight away games.

But, partly due to the failure of any one side to put a run together, after thirty-six rounds, La Liga was poised.

Roberto Ayala scored early against Malaga, taking the pressure off Valencia. Fabio Aurelio scored near half-time to guarantee the win, and Valencia went far enough ahead to be crowned champions.

It had been a slog, and Valencia had fought, often without impressing. Benitez had been criticised by the Spanish press, and some sections of the Mestalla, for defensive displays and a lack of imagination in front of goal, while others justified the manager by pointing to the gulf in finances between Valencia and their rivals, particularly Real Madrid.

In 2008, Rafael Benitez has a team sat at the summit of English football, suffering negativity in the press and from fans for defensive tactics, and struggling to defeat lesser teams at home. At the same time, however, Liverpool's title rivals are also inconsistent, with Chelsea and Manchester United, both with superior funds and squad values, failing to tighten the gap on the Reds.

Could history be repeating itself?

I wonder.