18 August 2007

Liverpool's Rafael Benitez closes in on rival

By Jeremy Wilson (Daily Telegraph UK)

Keen to live up to his new 'Mellow Mourinho' nickname, it was perhaps predictable that Chelsea's manager did not talk about Rafael Benitez yesterday.
Few rivals appear capable of heating Jose Mourinho's blood more rapidly than Benitez, a manager who has faced Chelsea often and with success in the past three years.
The pair arrived in English football within a fortnight of each other in 2004, and tomorrow will be the 16th time that they have gone head-to-head in a rivalry which is arguably the most compelling in the Premier League.
The contrast, as well as the apparent antipathy, is obvious. Whereas Mourinho comes with the style and charisma of a Hollywood actor, Benitez has the everyday look of a fan in the stands rather than the manager of British football's most successful club.
Appearances, however, can be deceptive and though the early spoils in their head-to-heads were enjoyed by Mourinho - most memorably with his touchline gesturing in the Carling Cup final of 2005 - a subtle transfer of power can be detected.
Mourinho still holds a 7-5 overall lead, yet significant battles have been won by Benitez, notably one FA Cup and two Champions League semi-finals.
The questionable goatee beard is not the only sign of an emboldened Benitez this year. This was most obvious after the Champions League final against AC Milan when he suggested his future could be affected if significant transfer funds were not made available by the club's new American owners.
Benitez got what he wanted and has spent more than £40 million on the likes of Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun.
Mourinho has been quick to comment on Liverpool's spending, yet Benitez's stature at Anfield has been enhanced by his challenge to the club's hierarchy.
Former Liverpool striker Ian Rush said: "I think there is a greater confidence about him in that he sets the pace of the club, just like Mourinho does at Chelsea. Mourinho is very good in the way that he looks after his players, but Benitez now has the confidence to take the games to him and I think Liverpool have just had the edge in the matches over the last few years."
In contrast to Benitez, the perception of Mourinho is that he has been prepared to compromise in recent months. After tensions earlier this year with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, few expected him to remain manager for a fourth season, his longest period with any club.
Mourinho, though, has been accepting of less expansive spending this summer and, most surprisingly, has gone along with the appointment of the former Israel coach Avram Grant as Chelsea's director of football.
The new-found serenity does not seem to be an act. His popularity with the players has never been in question and they see a different persona behind the scenes to the confrontational Mourinho that can be evident through the eye of a television lens.
His reluctance this week, however, to engage in any "mind games" with Benitez is most likely an acceptance that this strategy has previously backfired.
Portsmouth's Djimi Traore played for Liverpool in four of the six recent Champions League matches between the clubs.
"Mourinho is clever," he said. "He protects his players by putting himself up front, but sometimes he can upset the opposition team and give more motivation."
However, it would be folly to underestimate Mourinho. Only one of Benitez's wins over his counterpart has come in the Premier League and Liverpool have been unable to match Chelsea's relentless consistency.
Rush, however, believes that this year might be different. "Liverpool have the chance not to be playing catch-up," he said.
"The league is the priority for Liverpool supporters and they believe that they can compete for the title. This is a chance to already go level with Chelsea with a game in hand.
"There's not much between the 22 players and so I think it may well come down to the tactics of Mourinho and Benitez."

Head to head
Mourinho 7 Benitez 5 draws 3
Premier League Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0 Liverpool 0 Chelsea 1
League Cup final Chelsea 3 Liverpool 2
Champions League semi-final Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0 Liverpool 1 Chelsea 0
Champions League group Liverpool 0 Chelsea 0
Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0
Premier League Liverpool 1 Chelsea 4
Chelsea 2 Liverpool 0
FA Cup semi-final Chelsea 1 Liverpool 2
Community Shield Liverpool 2 Chelsea 1
Premier League Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0
Liverpool 2 Chelsea 0
Champions League semi-final Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0 Liverpool 1 Chelsea 0
Liverpool v Chelsea (Sunday 16.00) (11pm Malaysian time aaa...)

· The two sides have not drawn a league game since May 2001, a run of 12 matches
· Man Utd are the only side to win at Anfield in the Premier League since Chelsea in October 2005
· Since that 4-1 home defeat to Chelsea, Liverpool have conceded 11 goals in 35 league matches at home
· Liverpool have scored two goals in each of their last three Premier League home games

No comments:



The GOLDEN Team of Kenny Daglish

The GOLDEN Team of Kenny Daglish
If we have them now, say farewell to Arsenal, Man.U and Chelsea... if...