Tag Archives: Rafa Benitez


There’s been a whole lotta action in the last 24 hours or so, and we don’t want you to miss a thing at FFTD!

Adios Rafa

Football forums and facebook statuses are awash with a coat of acronyms that could only mean one thing – Liverpool are at another turning point. Showing, once again, that they really set the benchmark for abbreviation, the Anfield faithful have come out in never-before-seen force, claiming the statuses of friends, relatives and thousands of unknown victims with their indecipherable codes. After all the speculation and that protracted media circus seeming to follow Benitez’s every move at the start of 2010, Anfield has “given him the chop”, “given him a severance package” or “let their gaffer walk away”. Whatever the story, and whatever the payout (gernerally regarded as from 3 – 6 million of the English denomination), you really have to question the politeness of the club’s decision. After all those long stakeouts in the bushes of the main man’s mansion, PTS and his colleagues were sprung with the story at the one time in the last 4 years where we probably haven’t had to talk a whole bunch of crap to make news. 1 week from the World Cup? The UK’s biggest shooting massacre in 30 odd years? This won’t even make the back page, let alone the front. Have a bit of decency and just break the news when we write the headlines thanks very much.

Just a quick serious word: I always get a little upset at how sportspeople’s past is so easily forgotten. Benitez was unlucky in the sense that he did it all back in ’05 after only the 1 season in the job. His Champions League win, in the end, set a benchmark and precedent that was not only unsustainable, but simply unreasonable. It’s a shame that Rafa’s record will be forever tarnished by the poor ’09/10 campaign that’s been lambasted everywhere. Benitez is a true hero of the club and deserves the respect shown to him, as club officials refuse to say the word “sack”.

You’ll never walk alone Rafa, and we’ll never get to see your ridiculous gesticulations… Vail RB. Rafamusement no more.

Did any of you muppets read the script?

As if Rafa hasn’t messed things up enough, all these world cup players and managers are just destroying the form guide for 2010. Just about every football fan is reaching their climax after 2 solid weeks of non-stop footage of training fields, passing drills and talk about the Jubalani. After 1 week of surprise results it wasn’t too hard to brush them off as friendlies that don’t count for nufin’. But I just can’t take it anymore… I’ve cracked, I wrote the article I said I’d never write…

Last night, Spain were simply dismal against a highly efficient and industrious South Korea. At half time, the dog-eaters were undoubtedly the better side. Spain, a team that previously could swat away opposition like a fat bogan on an outdoor toilet waves away flies, looked bereft of any confidence, nervous and severely underdone. World Cup holders, Italy, have largely flown under the radar, which generally would be considered ominous for the competition. But last night they blasted onto the scene with a 2-1 loss to a Mexican side that didn’t feature many regular starters. Um, what! Thought that was enough? Well, last night we got the trifecta, as Germany fell behind against established minnows, Bosnia and Herzegovina before winning 3-1. That is almost worse than the previous 2 results.

For how much longer must be maintain our rhetoric that the best teams grind out victories and that the best is being saved for next week – this is getting ridiculous.

Just a final note. It’s worth mentioning the ball for just a minute (and I mean just a minute) Step 1: Manager’s ban players from talking to the media about everything from their love life to their new boots. 2. Player’s circumvent the orders by framing the majority of their personal problems, and the majority of the world’s wider problems on the ball. (If that shmuck on the flotilla hadn’t used the new rounder and more advance ball, it wouldn’t have curved just as much and missed the Israelis – wow that’s terrible) 3. Okay, everyone take a deep breath, and on the count of three, let it all out – get rid. Once we’re done, we can all pinkey promise to just leave it alone for another 4 years.

Major news story? Big factor in the finals? You’ve gotta be kidding! This is just yet another media beat up that comes around on the eve of every World Cup. Critics have likened the under fire ball as a “volleyball that you buy outside a service station for a couple of bucks”. Well good on ya, that’s the ball you’ll be playing with.

Right’o then, let’s practise a few more corners…

Tagged , , , , ,

Pass the Sugar

The week in brief

Gerrard hands the title to Chelsea… Mr Mourinho proves his class… Benitez hesitant about next season… 4th place to the Yids or the Arabs… 4th place to the Yids… Fulham European dreaming…. Tickets to South Africa being printed

News of the Week

Newspapers all over the football world were looking to the Chelsea/Liverpool game at Anfield over the weekend. What was to unfurl was a bizarre series of events. Gerrard got his face onto the back page for all the wrong reasons, Chelsea were abysmal, the title race reached an almost certain anti-climax and in farcical scenes at the conclusion Benitez refused to commit to next season. That interview saw Benitez with a smug grin and seeming disinterest for the task at hand, refusing to make any comment about his much debated future. Reports everywhere told of his apparent relaxed nature on the touchlines that is contrary to his usual animated persona. Could this be the end of Benitez? Who will move into one of the toughest roles in Europe – pleasing the Kop?

Play of the Week

This week there was a clear standout for the gong. Bizarre scenes unfolded in Croatia, where incredibly a player was booked for diving when in actual fact he was dying. On the 35th minute of the game in sunny Hvar the player collapsed and the puzzling scene was realised by officials to late for the bloke to be revived. Anyway, he gets a mention here.

Pick of the Weekend

Stamford Bridge will be packed to the rafters and this is simply compulsory viewing. While not the dramatic end that many had hoped, with unglamorous fixtures against Wigan (everyone shutup about them beating them already in the league) and Stoke for the two top sides, switching between the two games on your tele will be sure to give you title fever. Pass the Sugar is hoping that Wigan snitch an early goal – think goal mouth scramble with big bad Rodellega toe poking into the net – and the title race will be well and truly on. Watch as fans at Old Trafford react to the news of Chelsea falling behind and then celebrate as their hero Wayne slots a cool penalty bellow the outstretched Sorenson. Watch the controversy of that penalty that handed United their record equalling title and will be talked about for years.

Alternatively, Chelsea could win 7-0.

Quotes of the week

“This chance is unmissable and well, er, he misses it!” Alan Hansen on Match of the Day 2 about Dimitar Berbatov’s miss against Sunderland.

“When you are at Arsenal, you are at Arsenal. When you are somewhere else, you are somewhere else.”  Arsene Wenger on Andrey Arshavin’s wish to one day play for Barcelona. But if an Arshavin scores for Barca and Wenger does not see it does it count as a goal? Thanks for that Arsene.

“It’s difficult to find a defect on Mourinho, perhaps he is a little introverted but he is marvelous.” Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti talking about Mourinho!  Yes the Special One is a little introverted, who came up with that nickname for Mourinho anyway?

“They started in that tournament in July. July! Crikey. I was on the beach.” Sir Alex Ferguson on why Roy Hodgson deserves the Manager of the Year award, after steering Fulham to the Europa League final. Fergie proving that tans fade fast.

“Last season, we finished second and they wrote a book about it called ‘It’s A Miracle’. We are champions and that’s more than a miracle!”  Steve McClaren – more than a miracle worker – after leading FC Twente to their first Dutch title.

“If Manchester want to have him, they have to sign over two oil fields to us. Or cart over at least two big lorries tightly packed full of English banknotes.”  Borussia Dortmund managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke on what it will take for Manchester United to prise Neven Subotic away. Cold War harkening.

Get me my cab money

Take up the multi offer at your local – Chelsea to beat Wigan at home into Chelsea taking out the title. Whatever you do, don’t take one without the other!

If you’re not watching sport, you should be watching…

Watch the majority of the Spurs subs get back at the gaffer. Quality stuff this. Find it over here.

Tunes to drive to the game

Pop the new(ish) Gorillaz album into the tray, roll down your windows and pump the volume. Heavy on bass, the computer generate sound team will make you look badass no matter what your car is. Fresh new psychedelic pop mixed with classic sounds, the compilation featuring the likes of Snoop Dog is an interesting listen if nothing else. Make sure you stick it out, as the tracks at the back end are just as good as those in the single digits.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Lacklustre Liverpool

Honestly, what is going on at Anfield? Their insipid display over the weekend against an extremely poor Chelsea has almost put an end to what has been a dramatic and sudden decline from title contenders to mid table wanderers and Champions League threat to Europa League failures. Much has been said about Benitez and his debatable transfers. Much has been said about “that loss” to Reading in the FA cup. Much has been said about Torres and his seemingly endless run of injuries. Liverpool are at the tipping point. Turn it around with new owners, a new manager and new players and they are a big enough club to go straight back to the top four. But inaction could spell a long banishment to football wilderness.

Football for the day gives you the inside information and all the opinions that matter. Today, in tactic Tuesday, focus will be put on the ‘Pool’s lack of direction on the pitch.

What’s changed between last year, where Liverpool were genuine title challengers and this year’s failure?

When Xabi Alonso parted with the Reds fancying the riches and glamour of the Galacticos, Benitez unveiled his big summer signing – Alberto Aquilani. The ex Roma star was brought in as an ostensible straight swap for Alonso. This, however, was to prove fanciful, with the loss of Alonso obvious from the outset. Aquilani proved to be a different class of player. At Roma he posed a direct goal threat with quick feet and pushing forward across the pitch. His roal was similar to a Fabregas at Arsenal. Aquilani was not the player to match Alonso’s superb passing range who sat in an almostquarterback role, spraying diagonal long balls that became a hallmark of Liverpool. When Alonso arrived at Anfield, he also possessed an attacking bent, having been employed further forward at Real Sociedad, and so the hope for fans was that Benitez would similarly develop Aquilani into the holding regista role.

Aquilani arrived with much fanfare. Former Liverpool sweetheart and team mate at Roma, John Arne Riise remarked, “He is a fantastic player on the ball, very technical. He is different to Alonso but he is the sort of player who can break teams down. He is a very good passer of the ball; he runs a lot; finds space everywhere and he likes to get in the box to score goals.” Benitez also denied that Aquilani was brought in as direct cover for Alonso, “He is a very good player on the ball, and hopefully he can produce the sort of asses that we missed last season. Certainly at home against packed defences when we could only draw important matches.”

All the hype, however, was put on an indefinite hold, as injuries hampered any chance of a swift impact by the Italian. Appearances were limited by an niggling ankle injury until late October. Until recently, the unfortunate scapegoat Lucas was favoured in the starting 11. Much of the criticism levelled at Lucas has been unfounded. Lucas has been capable, if not spectacular, alongside Mascherano and often seemed to be derided simply as the man who kept Aquilani perched in the second row. Pundits and commentators around the world heaped pressure on Benitez to play Aquilani with Mascherano in the middle, but until the season had all but slipped away, Rafa resisted the temptation and consequently placing immense pressure on his own employment

At the start of April Liverpool’s season had already been slapped with a big fat F. At this point, Aquilani had featured in the starting lineup 5 times in the league, for 5 wins: 2-0 at home over Wolves, 1-0 away at Villa, 2-0 over Spurs at Anfield, 2-0 at home to Bolton and an comfortable 4-1 home win over Portsmouth. In this final match, Aquilani opened his goal-scoring account at the club and Benitez said afterwards, “Alberto has got desire and he is working very hard. When we have him available, he can give us a different approach on the pitch in different games.”

With reference to the below screenshots, Aquilani proved an effective link between the much maligned midfield and the incisive Torres (9) and Gerrard (8). The first screenshot shows his average position; further forward than that achieved by Lucas (21) or Mascherano (20).

Looking at the disappointing 2-2 stalemate with Birmingham at home (a result all too typical this season) Lucas was employed by Benitez to fulfill a similar link-man role. His average position is similar to that shown above for Aquilani – just inside the centre circle on the attacking half.

However, Lucas is a grafting and hard working player. He is willing to work back to defend, as shown by the first heatmap, compared to Aquilani, who possesses a more attacking mindset, as shown in the second screenshot.

(Guardian Chalkboards comparison of their passing statistics that informed the majority of these insights, demonstrates the conclusion Aquilani plays a more significant role in Liverpool’s attacking build up compared to Lucas.)

I can hear the budding football tacticians grumbling their disagreement already. Birmingham have proved strong opposition since promotion – defensively disciplined and well structured. Portsmouth, contrastingly, are unsteady at the back and lack the quality to control the midfield battle and offer any sizeable threat in attack. But the illustration is still achieved. Lucas is only favoured as he fits big bad Rafa’s uncompromising system that favours controlling zones. Fitness can not be the only excuse for Alberto’s absence, as he has been an unused substitute on nine occasions to add to his scrapbook of 12 appearances off the subs bench. Rafa has been willing to address the red’s stuttering attack without Aquilani, instead favouring Gerrard to control the centre of midfield and move Kuyt (18) into an advanced position. (Kuyt and Gerrard are circled) The formation map from Liverpool’s strong 3-0 win over Sunderland shows this move.

The nagging question that may as well be on a banner in the Kop is why Aquilani doesn’t play in front of Mascherano leaving Gerrard in his preferred position sitting in behind Torres. Recently, Aquialani has shown promise, but changes in late April are not where season’s are decided and changes were made too late in the piece. Indeed these four quality footballers had started together only once before the second week of April, in the match with Portsmouth, and the Merseyside outfit resembled the fluidity that got them so far in previous years.

Why would Benitez spend a whopping £17 million attracting the player if he was unsure and couldn’t trust him to perform the role. Overall, Aquilani’s mysterious season looks set to end in a failure. Whatever the scenario next season, Aquilani is one player who should be given the chance in the Premier League.

Tagged , , , ,