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David Lacey

Technocrat to blame for Athens anti-climax

Liverpool's Champions League final defeat showed Rafa Benítez could do with a few more tricks up his sleeve.

David Lacey

May 26, 2007 12:05 AM

Here's a happy thought. For the next nine months there will be no cup finals, or at least none burdened by English hype and expectation. The disappointment of Liverpool's 2-1 defeat by Milan in Wednesday's Champions League final was only minimally tempered by the feeling that at least the game had been better than the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester United four days earlier. Whatever happened, it could never have been that bad.

Yet the match in Athens was always going to suffer in comparison with the melodramatics of Istanbul in 2005 when Liverpool came from 3-0 down at half-time to hold Milan at 3-3 and then beat them on penalties. Remakes seldom work.

Someone has described the earlier meeting as the best European Cup final ever, which it emphatically was not. That distinction remains with Real Madrid's 7-3 defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park in 1960 followed by Benfica's 5-3 victory over Real in Amsterdam two years later.

Certainly for excitement and twists of plot the 2005 final eclipsed most of its predecessors since the European Cup became the Champions League. Arsenal's dogged reaction to having their goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, sent off early in Paris last season, when they took the lead through Sol Campbell only for Barcelona to score twice late on, caught the imagination yet feelings of anticlimax persisted. This should have been the ultimate triumph of Arsène Wenger's side but the chance was lost and the team has since gone into transition.

Athens alone has seen better European finals than it did this week. Milan's fitful, slightly dog-eared performance against Liverpool paled beside their 4-0 demolition of Barcelona in 1994 and nothing on Wednesday equalled the rather pleasant shock, in 1983, of seeing an unfancied Hamburg team beat the Juventus of Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile, Marco Tardelli, Paolo Rossi, Ziggy Boniek and Michel Platini, courtesy of a goal from Felix Magath.

One myth which needs to be stifled is that the better team lost in the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night. True, Liverpool gained command of the midfield and dominated large areas territorially while Milan remained penned in their own half and kept giving the ball away.

But having established a platform Rafael Benítez's players got stage fright near goal and did not press home their attacks with conviction until they were two down with eight minutes to go.

To be sure Liverpool were unlucky with the first of Filippo Inzaghi's two goals, Andrea Pirlo's free-kick taking a fortuitous deflection off the striker's arm as Inzaghi followed up for any rebound. However, their overall performance betrayed a lack of quality in crucial positions, not least in front of the net. Promising a close-season clear-out on the eve of a Champions League final might not boost a team's morale but at least Benítez's need for new signings (backed by Liverpool's new American money) was proved by events in Athens.

Benítez is a painstaking football technocrat who weighs up opponents and leaves little to chance. Yet on the evidence so far he lacks the feel of Chelsea's Jose Mourinho for adapting a team to the fluctuating requirements of a big match.

All right, Benítez did bring on Dietmar Hamann after half-time in Istanbul to stop Kaka running the game but that was more about rectifying a mistake in team selection. In fact in Athens Benítez did the reverse when he withdrew Javier Mascherano, who had severely limited Kaka's influence, in order to bring on Peter Crouch. Within four minutes the Brazilian had set up Inzaghi's second goal.

Nevertheless Crouch should have come on and much earlier in the game, for it quickly became apparent that the ruse of moving Steven Gerrard up to support Dirk Kuyt was failing for the same reason that Paul Scholes has usually been less effective for Sir Alex Ferguson in an advanced role. Gerrard and Scholes like to have the play in front of them when they go forward because it gives them more options. Opponents, moreover, find it harder to pick them up. Benítez's refusal to add Craig Bellamy's pace to the attack when the final was slipping away is a mystery.

When Liverpool first won the European Cup,beating Borussia Moenchengladbach 3-1 in Rome in 1977, Bob Paisley kidded the opposition that John Toshack would be fit, although Tosh had no chance of playing. When the Welshman did not appear, the Germans' game plan was thrown into disarray, Kevin Keegan took his marker, Berti Vogts, on walkabouts and the trophy came to Anfield.

On Wednesday, Liverpool were not short of tactics but Benítez obviously does not do tricks.

Comments

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Watford/gbr

Seems a bit harsh considering his overall record in the last few years

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Sevenoaks/gbr

David, it is a question of personnel I think Benetez has done exceptionally well with the tools he has at his disposal. It was asking a bit much to expect him to do the double against mighty Milan. Jose has much more fire power than Benetez so have Milan.

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Another snide dig at Chelsea. I couldn't be bothered to read past the first paragraph. I enjoyed watching both games for different reasons. As a Chelsea fan, I found the FA cup final to be engrossing, nerve wracking and a real tactical masterclass from Jose operating with an injury ridden much diminshed squad. The european final, on the other hand seemed error strewn, techically poor and tactically naive, at least on Benitez' part. Instantly forgettable in fact. The main satisfaction was seeing liverpool lose in what was a fairly damp squib. Just goes to show how subjective we all are. Am I in a minority here or do most neutral fans agree with David Lacey?

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Sydney/aus

More anti Chelsea bias. I also found the FA Cup final absorbing if it wasn't a great game. In the Champions final for sure the lack of tactical flexibility of Benitez was revealed. Remember also it was his awful first half in the first game 2 years ago that had them 0-3 down.
Mourinho as mentioned is far better at adapting to the needs of the match as it unfolds. Liverpool play like their manger, boring, predictable and relying on the penalty shoot out and no excuse of lack of players can conceal that. Once the season or game is underway the coach has to make the best of what he has, Mourinho did this brilliantly this season and Benitez did not.

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Auckland/nzl

27 years- Yep, you're in a minority. The FA Cup was pretty tedious for any neutral- I'm not even sure why you think it's relevant here. (I have to say I'm rather amused when non-Liverpool fans take vicarious pleasure in Liverpool's losses, because that reveals the extent to which our successes are burned into the social imaginary of football).
I agree that the Champions' league final wasn't a classic. Yes, Liverpool and Bentitez made mistakes, but they took the game to Milan and tactically dominated a very experienced top-class European team for long periods. Liverpool still aren't the finished article, but you have to give Benitez credit for making best use of his squad. Unlike Milan and Chelsea, whose successes have stemmed largely from their massive financial backing from Berlusconi and Abramovic respectively, Liverpool have punched well above their weight. OK, You can't fluke winning the Premiership, but neither can you fluke two Champions'League finals in 3 years... Ask Juventus, Barcelona, Milan (oh, and Chelsea... twice).

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Delhi/ind

Saying Rafa Benitez is tactically inept is like saying Wenger doesnt know how to judge a player.

If there is one thing, that he is good at, it is tactics and micromanagement.

He has obsessive compulsive disorder. He is like those people who have to always keep washing their hands because they feel it is dirty.

Every little thing has to be just right as he works the players into neat formations and tactics.

The joy of playing chess is that any horse piece or rook piece will do for your game. Thats why Rafa can be succesful with Traore, Zenden, Pennant etc. They may not be the best, but they are different types of players, and they will do.

But the real question is can Rafa manage a chessboard where every piece has a mind of its own, and wants freedom to express itself.

This is where Ferguson gets it right, more then the other 3 managers. Wenger just puts the pieces on the board and dozes off and he lets them do whatever they want. Rafa and Mourinho want the pieces to do exactly what they want, stifling any creativity in the process. While Alex strikes a balance between the two.

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Jinhua/chn

who could be blamed for the failure of transfer.
the manager of course!
we are here in the Premierleague ,not SerieA,where the coach has no vatal vote to the players the club buys .
it is the boss who has the final say.
take a look at the players Rafa buyed in these two years.
has the board ever intervened into how to handle the transfer or who should be bought.
why does he make do with dozens of second-rated star when having ample budget to buy one or two super stars
.

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Richardson/usa

Oh Jesus,

David Lacey just mentions that Chelsea-Man U game was a boring spectacle--which is hardly untrue--- and the Chelsea fans immediately get hurt calling the article another snide dig at Chelsea...


Come on boys! The article is not even remotely about Chelsea and you are already crying! You should have a thicker skin...


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The story about Toshack is a tall one, which happened in the 1972/73 UEFA CUp Final first leg at Anfield, which was abandoned after 20 minutes and played again the following night.

Sir Bob Paisley didn't bother kidding anyone, he dropped David Johnson to the bench after the previous Saturday's cup final loss, brought back Ian Callaghan, and switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, with Keegan and Heighway upfront, butr basically Keegan was a lone striker. The significance of the final, beside's it being Liverpool first European Cup, was the 4-4-2 formation, which was rarely seen in English football at the time. Liverpool under Shankly had always played 4-3-3, but from May 25th 1977 onwards Paisley changed that system for good, history can tell you the rest - if you care to check your facts Mr Lacey

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Sydney/aus

of course mourinho is so much better than benitez. its such a pity he keeps losing semi finals to him with a team/squad benitez would swap with his in a second.

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Let's faceit, money is taking the creativity out of football. Win at all costs, that's why is was refreshing that Man U won the championship playing football you wanted to watch. What happened to Alonso on Wednesday? It's all becoming 4-5-1 tactics at the moment, and as for buying players, the Liverpool manager hasn't been vey astute in the transfer market -- Crouch, Bellamy, Kuyt, Zenden!! He should have saved up and bought someone decent!

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Oh dear. Some people must be getting pretty bored of this tit for tat stuff.
Cantuseyourownname - I specifically asked for the neutral view on this one. I was also wondering why the depressing need to drag Chelsea into this but David Lacey started it. Taking pleasure in your rivals disappointments is an essential part of being a football fan no disputing though that your successes of late have been of the imaginary type.
stormid - replacing your one decent defensive midfielder with a striker and then most bizarrely wasting time by making a tactical substitution in injury time is hardly the sign of a tactical genius. When Mourinho very occasionally finds himself on the losing side during a game he can be extremely adventurous with creative/goal scoring events almost invariably resulting from substitutions and changes in formation. Tactically he definitely has the edge over SAF.

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Manchester/gbr

27years

'Taking pleasure in your rivals disappointments is an essential part of being a football fan'

Sad, inane, moronic nonsense.

The 'essence' of being 'a fan' is the loyalty and support that you give to your own team; not the petty bitterness moronic idiots feel the need to express towards their rivals.

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Okayama/jpn

A good article as per David.
The only mememories I will keep: Kaka's lovely ball for the second goal and his T-shirt at the end.
As far a flukes go consider the following:
The final in Istanbul won on a lottery. Getting to the final in Athens on a lottery.
Winning the FA cup on a lottery.
Maybe penalty shoot outs should be introduced in the premier leaugue.
Could be the chance Liverpool need.

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MarvinGaye - No disputing that the essence is in the loyalty and support for your own team but goading of rivals is a legitimate way of expressing that, as Parry and Benitez so wittily demonstrated recently vis a vis Mourinho's spending only yielding a league cup.

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Aol/gbr

It has been well established that Benitez got his tactics right on Wednesday, so this article is total crap. Paul Doyle got it absolutely spot on when he wrote "Rafa Benitez found the perfect formation to stifle Milan, but he lacked the players to win".
Liverpool just do not have the quality in the final third to trouble top class defenders, and willing (but severely limited) wingers like Bolo Zenden in the squad does not help.

Let's not kid ourselves here. If Liverpool won, we'd all be hailing Rafa's tactical acumen, but Liverpool didn't win, so instead we criticise.

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Manchester/gbr

George Gillett has said that he and Tom Hicks will gladly fund the acquisition of Snoop Dogg for Liverpool if Rafa wants him ... fer shizzle

http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/drilldown/N156046070525-1311.htm

I don't know where Snoop is going to play though, South Central midfield maybe?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GYSei66Rh4&mode;=related&search;=

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Wellington/nzl

jchel : how do you decide what memories you will keep ?

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Chatswood/aus

The article is not even remotely about Chelsea and you are already crying! Same for Ferguson, how many CL finals has he won?

I agree with somethings the "journalist" has to say but mostly it is rubbish. Subjectively we will all have our favorite CL final, I certianly dont remember RM V EF! For me Benitez got his midfield right but got his attack wrong. He had to have XA and JM in the mid to stiffle KAKA, it worked. JM should not have come off and probably could've done the job on his own. XA was ineffective and RB would've been better leaving him on the bench and starting Crouch and Kuyt. Playing Kuyt in SG role and SG as a free player. JM was the Reds best, by comparison SG was our worst. He wanted the ball when he shouldn't have asked for it and didn't finish when he should've, maybe he tried too hard! But RB really got it right on the night the Reds created enough chances to win and kept Milan to enough to win. Hindsight says maybe he should've done somethings differently but for the main he got it right his players lacked the quality to take their chances, on that note the "journalist" is right.

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Budapest/hun

People tend to forget that the present Liverpool side which is far from star-studded may have only four or five creative players and two of them, Garcia and Kewell, were out of action most of the year. For a squad of this quality that's a major blow and imho it was a great achievement to get to the final (where they were not outplayed by any means) by following carefully tailored tactics, showing great determination and tremendous character. Just think about it, how many Liverpool players could make it into the first team of Chelsea or MU.

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Birmingham/gbr

Stormid

For what it's worth I think your manager/chessboard analysis
is just about the smartest summary of the Fab Four I've read for a while, esp re AW (bless). I'd disagree about Mourinho, who it seems to me devises his Plan B cleverly and on the hoof when Plan A fails.

Good read from the ever-reliable Lacey. But why are Chelsea so quick to hurt and anger? The FA Cup Final was dull. Two teams played. Both were unimpressive.

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Telford/gbr

Rafa did a good job in devising a plan to stifle Milan. No doubt - however, he did not turn the screw. Or, his players didn't. Gerrard was poor I thought. He missed three decent chances, and Pennant missed the other. Alonso missed a reasonably good chance. Risse blased one (or two?) over the bar. THere seemed to be an edge to Liverpool. This was one that got away.

To win the league, Liverpool need to buy quality. I heard that Darren Bent is being linked. This is scary. The club have had their Heskeys down the years and Bent is another. He makes Defoe look clinical. If Rafa goes for him, it looks like a lamp rather than a coffee table and Rafa to return to Spain next year trophyless.

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Brisbane/aus

Davidhongkong, I hate to "pi$$ on your chips" mate but you had better check yur facts too, David Johnson never joined Liverpool until the start of 1976/77 season so its seems that your story is a very tall one !!!!!!

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Chicago/usa

This final may have been more "entertaining" than the FA cup final (although Chelsea could score 10 and these hypocritical idiots would attempt to make it sound a snoozefest), but the FACT is that we won and there is NO Chelsea fan who puts that behind "entertainment", nor will there ever be. Not to mention that Liverpool fans would have screamed with delight if they'd managed to play an equally dull game and managed to win. Give me a boring win over an entertaining loss every time, thank you very much. Well almost, but definitely when it's a final.

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Absolute rot. Benitez got it spot-on with his tactics. Never allowed Milan to settle and made them look, at times, like a pub team. I'm not a Liverpool fan (and I'm glad they lost) but I thought their manager did a good job with what he had at his disposal. Sometimes, the breaks just go against you.

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Aubervilliers/fra

Benitez "was spot no with his tactics"? Maybe I was watching a different game, because for me Zenden had no idea what a ball was - either he was unfit or he was clueless but whatever he shouldn't have played; Kuyt was a 50/50 call for Crouch but the latter definitely should have come on earlier; Harry Kewell? bizarre this guy - more clueless than Zenden. What was even doing in Athens let alone on the bench and then on the pitch? Mascherano off? What was that then if not a rum call? Gerrard playing off Kuyt is not his role nor his position; spot on? debatable. However, if Gerrard had scored when through, if Pennant had also, if Inzhagi had not...etc this would not be being discussed but even a victory would not have masked the reality that Benitez called it wrong on Wednesday and blowing a bucket-load of dollars in the summer won't hide the fact he is not a "genius" - a good coach, yes but one who took a punt and lost.

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St-lambert/fra

These kind of articles are soooooo tiresome. You know, football is not chess and there is only so much that tactics will do for you. Look at what Milan did against Man U and Bayern and look how close 'Pool came. How do you think they did it? Man-for-man Milan is almost uniformly better (except Reina, maybe). They came close because of Rafa's tactics.

The same match minus the lucky deflection by Inzaghi would have been another shoot out win by 'Pool -- and an elogious article for Rafa's brilliant tactics.

What a load of rubbish.

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CantUseMyOwnName - "Unlike Milan and Chelsea, whose successes have stemmed largely from their massive financial backing from Berlusconi and Abramovic respectively, Liverpool have punched well above their weight."

Yet another example of the red mist! Liverpool of today believe that success is theirs by divine right (ignoring the financial backing they have enjoyed over many, many years of the Moore family and their gambling empire).

Reading this season � a good example of punching above their own weight. Wigan, much the same last season. Benitez spending over �86m on 39 players during his four year tenure hardly qualifies.

Enjoy your whining rights �Pool. Now you are in foreign hands with the likelihood of major investment for players at will your excuses for failure diminish.

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Rome/ita

cantuseyourname: I have to say I'm rather amused when non-Liverpool fans take vicarious pleasure in Liverpool's losses, because that reveals the extent to which our successes are burned into the social imaginary of football.

It's almost childlike in its innocence. Almost as delusional as thinking they dominated on Weds. Still if it makes you sleep at night rather than face the truth. Let's hope Rafa is less easily fooled or the wait for the premiership (should you still be interested, its hard to tell) will go on and on and on.

We like it when you lose because you play dull football, and are triumphalist before the fact and dismisive of other club's history and tradition.


It's called Hubris and too often you make yourselves hostages to it.


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Freiburg/deu

It has been well established that Benitez got his tactics right on Wednesday, so this article is total crap. Paul Doyle got it absolutely spot on when he wrote "Rafa Benitez found the perfect formation to stifle Milan, but he lacked the players to win"

...............

In the first half I'd agree, tactically Liverpool's game plan was working, Milan's passing game was sabotaged, Liverpool stopped them from putting anything more than a few passes together, even when they did the moves were breaking down and going nowhere. The only thing that Liverpool didn't achieve was a goal, it looked to me as though they were waiting for a defensive mistake and true a couple of chances arose but neither were taken. However, where I agree with the author here is that after half-time and one-nil down with Kuyt not winning much I'd have subbed the ineffective Zenden for Bellamy and played him off of Kuyt's shoulder rather than pushing Gerrard forward. The effect of that was that Gerrard, Liverpool's midfield conductor stopped doing what he does best - competing for the ball and bringing other players into the game and therefore was largely taken out the game consequently Liverpool looked less likely rather than more likely to equalise. I'd have brought Crouch on much sooner too, this is a one off game and at one-nil down what matters is scoring the equaliser, where it comes from and how it gets there is irrelevant.

That mistake was then compounded by subbing Macherano who had Kaka in his pocket, and on comes Kewell and suddenly Kaka provides the move that wins the match...coincidence or tactical inflexibility?

So overall first half to Liverpool and Benitez, but when it mattered Benitez was incapable of changing things around, so overall I agree with David Lacey that Benitez was at fault. Because of this Milan were able to retain their shape and never looked like being broken down.

Similarly in lasy year's CL final Barcelona, trailing one -nil realised that their tactics of giving the ball to Ronaldinho who tried to find Eto'o were failing so they changed tactics. Sensible, realistic stuff, a couple of players came on and different tactics. Benitez, for an astute tactician seemed incapable and unwilling to make the conclusions.

As for the FA Cup Final...I appreciate that somehow despite having tens of millions to spend on players that Mourinho was down to the bare minimum in terms of squad but it really was a tediously boring game of football. By extra-time the two defences were down to punting the ball back and forth in a race to see whose neck muscles were going to go first. Two teams of the calibre of Man U and Chelsea really should have served up a much better game than that.

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Stormid,

Unfortunately, Man Utd. was still humbled by AC Milan in the semi. You can call it fatigue, muddy field, anything but Rio Federnand, stage flight ( for some chaps out there like Fletcher & co. ), naive defending, Heinze was not Heinze the nascent / MK I refreshing version, et al. The fact remained though there were still some gaps between the British contigent & the best from the Continental. Count out the facts: In the recent 4 UEFA / CL Finals, 3 losers belonged to the U.K., viz., Arsenal, Middlesborough, & Liverpool.

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Freiburg/deu

I have to say I'm rather amused when non-Liverpool fans take vicarious pleasure in Liverpool's losses, because that reveals the extent to which our successes are burned into the social imaginary of football.

.............

In my experience fans of the big teams (not just Liverpool) tend to be poor winners and graceless losers. I guess this is down to supporting a team that has the financial backing to assure success, the average big club fan knows that if one player goes another superstar is likely to replace him and they'll be back to winning ways again.

So as for being amused when non-Liverpool fans take pleasure in Liverpool losing, I think you need to see whose fans took pleasure when Milan ko'd Man U in the CL semis, or had a good chuckle when Arsenal lost last year's CL final etc. Having a laugh when your rivals fall on their faces is in our human nature - schadenfreunde as my countrymen call it, no point complaining about it. What goes around, comes around.

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My God, I don't know what amazes me most. Either:

1: Rafa going from being one of the shrewdest tacticians in the game, to that of a tactically inept buffoon, after ONE game (that happens to be a European Cup Final against Milan). Journalists are more fickle than the fans!!

or

2: Chelsea fans jumping on the blog thinking this is an anti-Chelsea thread. Get a grip will you. We know you're stuck with an inferiority complex due to buying your recent successes, but not all blogs are actually about your little club!!

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Manchester/gbr

arggghhhhh

how on earth can anyone say that rafa got his tactics wrong here? liverpool dominated large periods of the game, and were never dominated. Milan created one chance, with a touch of class it has to be said, and took it well (though is inzaghi the most annoying player ever invented?).

The fault was ultiately in the personel, and zenden certainly didn't provide any thrust, but it should be remembered that he is in fact liverpool's third choice left midfielder, and garcia or a fit kewell out there might have seen a different result. My one criticism was that gerrard was playing a little too far forward, and maybe a tired pennant should have been removed for bellamy/crouch, as xabi and masch were functioning so well.

i think kuyt is a good international player, but he is not a target man, and we suffered from not having enough players in the box at times, as he took part in the build up play.

For those criticising rafa's transfer market policy, this flies against the facts. He has spent a fair wad, but recouped a lot too, and had to revamp the whole squad. i would categorize his first team signings as the following:

unqualified successes:

Reina, Agger, Alonso, Sissoko, Garcia, Mascherano, Kuyt - total cost, 45million

Qualified successes (players who have improved the squad, done well, but are never going to set the world alight):

Crouch, Pennant - total cost, 12million

Failures (players that did ok, but didn't live up to their potential):

Morientes, Bellamy, gonzalez - total cost, 15million.

there is another category of rafa signings, which is squad players, bought for less than 2million:
successes (added to the squad): zenden, fowler, arbeloa, pellegrino, total cost, 2 million

failures: nunez, krongkamp, josemi, total cost, 4million but profit made through sales.

So over three years, and 19 first team player signings, he has had 6 failures, at a cost of 19million, though sales have already recouped 7 million of that, and the sales of bellamy and gonzalez are likely to bring that into profit. He has also brought 7 players who are good enough for a league winning team, at an average of just over 6million each, and 2 that are good enough for a league winning squad, and 4 that have added depth at virtually no cost.

i would stand that record against anyone actually. Certainly better than jose and ferg, who both started from a much higher baseline, but have wasted more money, and added less class overall in the last three years. Wenger is a different situation, as he buys youngsters so is allowed lots of failures, but his first team signings are not wildly succesful in recent years either (Hleb, Reyes, baptista, not so good, van persie good, rosicky not performed yet).

I am excited to see who rafa buys given the money. he has a good record, and but has been hamstrung by the amount of players he has had to buy (players to have left liverpool under rafa - heskey, baros, cisse, owen, diao, diouf, le tallec, hamman, warnock, murphy, henchoz, pongolle, biscan, vignal, dudek, kirkland. Can anyone tell me that they, with the exception of owen, would get anywhere near the current liverpool squad?)

he has vastly improved our squad in terms of personnel, fitness, tactical fluidity, results, confidence. I'm not sure what more he could realistically have done? Keep ion mind that liverpool will be ranked the third best team in europe next season, and then think of where we were when houllier left.

Well done to milan, deserved it after the mugging in istanbul, but looking forward to next season for liverpool.

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Addicks123,

Being a Gunner's fan, I would make no bones about the shortcomings of the club. A fact was a fact was a fact
that it lost 2 European Finals in recent years -- The 2000 UEFA Cup Final & last year's CL Final. The fact remains though in recent UEFA / CL Finals, many of the winners went for Spain & Italy. Not much reps from either the U.K. or Germany, in particular. Also supporting Werder Bremen & Bayer Leverkusen ( both still had not made it in either competition ).

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Seattle/usa

27yearsofpeopletakin - one neutral's view: After the first half of the first leg, Liverpool-Chelsea was grim, period. When I figure out what it would take to get me to watch a rematch, I'll let you know. I took a friend who's being treated for cancer to the FA Cup final. He said he preferred chemotherapy, with the possible exception of the 30 seconds surrounding the goal. The CL final was better than the other two matches, but that's saying very little. If you weren't a fan of one of the clubs involved it was collectively pointless.

Scrotum - Benitez prevented Milan from playing as they did against MU, but that's it. He and Liverpool looked entirely clueless from half-time on. Many posters have decried Liverpool's squad, but three years is plenty of time for Benitez to build a team. It's time for him to take responsibility and dance wth the girl he brought.

CantUseYourOwnName - your impression of what people remember about Liverpool is what's imaginary. Yes the Chelsea-Liverpool matches are burned in my memory, but hardly as successes. At this point I can pleasantly recall the Keegan-Heighway-Toshack FA Cup classic against Newcastle back in 1976 or so and that's about it. As I said above, I give Benitez credit for his squad as well as how he uses it. It's not a fluke, it's simply underwhelming.

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London/gbr

I think this idea that Benitez is a poor judge of player is a myth, as is the idea that the club haven't interfered.

He wanted Simao and got Pennant, he wanted Alves and missed out for the sake of a couple of million pounds. He was certainly chasing far better strikers before being forced at the end of the summer to enter a deal for Bellamy.

Meanwhile, the players who he has really pushed for, Alonso, Garcia, Reina, Agger have been a success (admittedly Gonzalez has been a disappointment).

Fergie (Veron anyone?) and Chelsea (I doubt Mourinho wanted Shevchenko for �30m) not to mention Newcastle and Spurs have regularly bought expensive failures. Arsenal take a different, scatter gun approach to young talent but have their fair share of dead wood.

We're told the board will back Benitez to get the players he really wants this summer. If he returns with a squad with a high quality winger and two goal scorers, then we'll see what kind of manager he really is.

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London/gbr


Uncle Rafa messed up him tactics in both finals against Meeelan.

He just got lucky in Istanbul.

He certainly did not get this right in Athens in my view.

One example, why expose Zenden to the ridicule he has suffered everywhere by playing him on the wing where he pace was never going to trouble oddo

Zenden in his latter years has been very dynamic from a central midfield position, thats certainly where he was at his most effective for boro.

You could question his signing, given that he is in the twilight of his career. Nonetheless once signed you at least have to play him properly. Risse could have done a better job on that left side.

All rafa's substitutions where a reverse of 2005, where he made substitutions to rectify the errors in his starting XI.

And the end of it all, it cant be good for morale to hear through the gossip columns that some in their ranks have been/are about to be released.

Really dunno what the fuss is with Rafa. People point to Valencia, but few of those players were his. And look at Valencia now, same players, internal strife, horrific injury list, but they keep delivering.

Liverpool need more than a technocrat to progress. They need a manager who can create a team and give them the freedom to go and express themselves every week.

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London/gbr

Jeez1 Yet another Liverpool blog on GU, it's geting like groundhog day on here (but it's my choice to read it and I could always go elsewhere I suppose). How many keystrokes have there been since 9.45pm Wed evening ref Benitez tactical genius or Benitez tactical numpty?

A good point was made in relation to the premier league's relative failures in Europe in recent years. For all its unrivalled wealth, the league seems unable to generate winners with the same consistency as Spain/Italy. The golden years for English clubs was from the early seventies until 85; yet this was an era when financially we were at best level with the Euro giants and our national teams weren't exactly pulling up trees. Was it the tactical acumen of Clough, Saunders, Paisley et al? I honestly don't know.

In Italy, Milan's victory was greeted with joy as a demostration that for all its spending power, the premier league still can't carry its clout onto the pitch. Not that you could accuse Milan of being miserly, mind you.

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Football eh? She's a cruel mistress etc etc...

Just picking up the point about 3 English teams losing in the last 4 finals. It might be that English teams are becoming like the German teams in the 1970/80s, consistent and successful in Europe up to a point, but perhaps the relatively cautious approach proves their undoing.

It was a tactical final on Wednesday, a tactical final that was won by Ancellotti. Neither team played particularly well and although Liverpool started off the better side, the goal helped Milan relax a bit and they pretty much controlled the game afterwards as Liverpool lost heart. Perhaps it really is better to be 1-0 up at half time rather than 2 or 3 up. Psychologically you would have the right balance to be confident of victory but knowing that work still needs to be done.

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London/gbr

Excellent analysis, Kokomo. I'm not sure Kuyt has achieved 'unqualified' status yet though...

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Madrid/esp

The Blog has been exclusively about Liverpool these last few days , God , can we have a break ?, they lost, what a surprise ? Let us talk a bout the Scots Cup Final. Enough already of these day long , wailing wall Liverpool blogs.STFU

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London/gbr

I'm new here but I thought this blog was about the article at the top. Not so? What else apart from Liverpool (and the obligatory Chelsea whingeing) should it be about?

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Sheffield/gbr

Addicks123 makes some good points. Liverpool's game plan worked well in the first half. Milan created nothing and looked flustered at the back. But I would disagree 'Pool were ever dominant. For me a dominant team has to impose their play on others, and do so with the ball. Liverpool's game plan was based entirely on containing and hassling Milan into defensive mistakes. The did this very well but by the nature of this approach they will always cede possession to their opponents, as they did, and never truly control the game. Having said that, they really did a great job with this approach in the first half without creating much. Pennant's chance was a good one but the angle was narrowed well by Milan so it was by no means unmissable.

Benitez should have changed things round sooner. He should have altered the emphasis of their approach from stop-Milan-scoring to score-a-goal-ourselves earlier. I don't think his failure to do so is down to incapability but down to fear. He reminds me of Italian managers of the old-school like Trapattoni. So scared of conceding, they were often reluctant to move to a more attacking setup. Even this almost worked but Gerrard's shot was poor. Other than that Milan limited Liverpool to shots from distance, usually through a crowd of defenders.

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London/gbr

When people start criticizing Rafa Benitez for the players he bought in they tend to conveniently forget the limited spending power he has had in comparison with the other top three sides. People are playing with numbers when they try to suggest he spent �100 million in the last three years. They are trying to denigrate his achievements because this figure is suggested out of context as he never had a �100 million to spend all at once, did he?
He had to rebuild a squad while spending in dribs and drabs at the bottom end of the scale. He has been spending on quantity not quality and it is not his fault, as he is operating in a club that has been frugal and slow moving. At the end of the day common sense would suggest he had to settle for what he could get as you have got to have players to put on a pitch.
However, the fact remains he has never been able to buy a 20 million pound player, or buy players at the very top end of the market which is needed if you are going to be competitive.
Rafa ended up with players who were not his first choice, and because of time constraints and financial constraints he ended up with inferior players. Players he has preformed miracles with.
While Rick Parry spent most of June and July swanning around the Caribbean (last year) other teams were buying players. Then come August most of Rafa�s choices were no longer available or Liverpool could not afford them. Rafa is right when he suggested Liverpool have to change, they have to act quickly and decisively, and they must spend big otherwise they will remain fighting for scraps.

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Delhi/ind

@Copacetic

Thanks.

Your point about Jose is right. Rafa gets so involved in the nitty gritties, he loses sight of the big picture. Even when his side is being hammered, he is seen taking down notes instead of doing something about it.

Jose, on the other hand, while tactically aware, is not obsessed with it. He always has an eye on the big picture and is willing to change things without too much thought. He relies more on motivation and his will to win.

Therefore, Liverpool and Chelsea players are stifled in slightly different ways. One by too many individual instructions, and the other by the domineering presence of Jose.

Players need to be totally free to be 'creative'. Thats why any team Wenger puts out play creative football. The players at Arsenal are 'free' in every sense on the pitch.

@SHOWTIME

Manchester United lost because they werent brave enough to use their normal formation away from home. their success this season has been because of their all out attack.

Maybe Fergie justifiably felt that his squad lacked a little bit of quality to take Milan head on.

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Manchester/gbr

Do Liverpool really need Rick Parry any more?

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Manchester/gbr

And the award for the most contradictions in a single article goes too..........

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London/gbr

Speaktruth - so, you think Rafa should just throw caution to the winds and throw everyone forward just to please a few snide neutrals?

Interesting idea. I'm sure the tie against Barca would've been a great spectacle if this was the case - unfortunately Liverpool probably would've lost it 8-3 in aggregate and Rafa would've been attacked for being tactically naive.

I had to laugh at your creative attempts at diminishing his undoubted managerial qualities. Leads Valencia to their first La Liga in 31 years, overhauling Barca and Real? That's because the players did it. Those same players that have done nothing before or since in La Liga.

He does it again? Well, the players did that too. Wins the Uefa cup after no financial backing from his board? Well the Uefa Cup is crap isn't it. Surprised he wasn't sacked. Boring sod.

Two CL finals in 3 years, with an FA Cup inbetween in his first years in a new league and country? Erm, well, the players aren't any good and nor is he, so that's a tricky one. I know, let's put it all down to luck. Lucky lucky Rafa. Yawny yawny yawn. Change the record, it sounds so bitter you can nearly taste it.

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Reading/gbr

I would say that Rafa has been a qualified success. Let me qualify what I mean.
He has spent a lot on strenghtening the squad, but alot of work needed to be done and players have moved in and out in the manner even Barry Fry would be impressed by. Overall they have proved capable of challenging in one offs and have fulfilled the remit of winning things whilst coming up to speed. If we read between the lines, he has been stifled slightly by the club on some of what he wants but I would say his squad is as strong as the rest of the top four, it's his first choice 11 where they still lack and it is this at the sharp end where hopefully with the US money he will now get what he wants. Then it will be up to him to back himself and blame hinself if it doesn't work out. Unfortunately the others will not stand still either, and the aquisitions by Manu and Chelsea in particular, with the foundations they have in place make it very hard. Still, Drogba and Sheva have cost over 50mil and have not been really worth it, although Drogba has silenced the critics this year. Working with Chelsea fans, most of whom thought he was a waste of money until the last 8 months.
Ultimately, Liverpool have been to two showpiece Euro finals in three seasons and that ain't bad. They also made two domestic finals and in all those cup runs have beaten; Chelsea, Man U, Barca, Juventus and AC Milan so perhaps not a complete waste of space. Let's see if he gets who he wants, what will happen then.

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Stormid,

Then the 1999 CL Semi comeback victory vs Juventus would have been a one-off? Or we haven't seen anything yet from the Red Devils?

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London/gbr

Never thought I'd agree with speaktruth and RAFASBENEATHUS but as a Liverpool fan can I just add - completely bored with GU's obsession with blogs about Benitez & Liverpool! Benitez's team selection & tactics aren't that interesting. Stop reminding me of Liverpool's shortcomings: most Liverpool fans are completely aware of them. (Do you think we sat there & cheered every time Zenden or Pennant failed to deliver a pass?!)

Benitez has achieved a lot - not least Liverpool's HOME premiership form, which is better than Chelsea's (not a snide dig, Chelsea bloggers, just the stats). Let Benitez use the Weetabix cash over the summer and let's see if Liverpool can manage to win more than six away games next season. If they do, then it could be a 3-way Premiership race & we'd all have something better to blog. Until Liverpool can compete, the jury's out on Rafa as far as I'm concerned. (Like I'm sure Chelsea fans might agree about Ranieri - lots of good qualities, but what did he deliver?)

Next season let's hope for a 4-way Premiership race until the bitter end, like they've got now in La Liga. It'll be better for everyone involved.

But @27yearsofpeopletakin - stop the Chelsea paranoia already!

You wrote: "Another snide dig at Chelsea. I couldn't be bothered to read past the first paragraph."

If you'd bothered to read down to the 9th paragraph, you'd have seen that Lacey complimented Mourinho:

"Yet on the evidence so far he lacks the feel of Chelsea's Jose Mourinho for adapting a team to the fluctuating requirements of a big match."

Is this a snide dig at Liverpool - no!! I completely agree - Mourinho is better at this. Lots of Liverpool fans are mystified about some of the tactical decisions in the 2nd half.

I despair more & more that some bloggers read a blog until they find the first thing to disagree with, then just vent their anger. Read the blog!

Why is it Chelsea fans think everyone's getting at them?! Why the big chip on the shoulder? You're in the middle of your biggest period of success ever - you should be bragging about that, rather than moaning about every other team. I'd have much more respect for Jose if he talked up Chelsea all the time, rather than wasting his time criticising other sides.

I tell you, if Liverpool had won the Premiership twice in 3 seasons, I'd be celebrating too hard to bother with criticising Man U, Chelsea etc. - ENJOY IT! It never lasts forever.

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London/gbr

Finntastic

The interpretation and bitterness are all yours surely?

As if Valencia never tasted big moments before rafa got there.

As far as I am concerned, Rafa footballing philosophy would not be my preference. I believe thats a right we are all allowed to hold.

In one of rafa's title winning seasons at Valencia, the top scorer was Baraja with 7 goals. Yes 7 goals. Mista plundered 20+ in the next victorious title win and found himself marginalised and subsequently never regained confidence.

You may not agree with it, but this is not a discussion plucked out of thin air.

Every manager/team gets it when they have faced an unfortunate loss. such is life. you have to live with it.

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Madrid/esp

HELLO MITCHOFTHEDAY

I realise you are new to the Blog, what usually happens is that the blogs are hijacked by Liverpool fans who probably dont read the article, it usually starts as a grouphug about how momo is great and Xavi< Pepe and Bonzo are the greatest of all time and how Rafa is God and we have 5 trophies and you havent , and we have history and you dont and Brookside is the greatest soap of all time blah blah blah, , when someone disagrees they are ridiculed or personally insulted, it usually goes on all day and as the guy from the young ones used to say is 'incredibly boring.'

By the way, where is poor MIRO today, hope these Liverpool bores have not made him go away forever.

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Baltimore/usa

Benitez hotline: PKPK-1010101.
dialtone: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Solihull/gbr

I have to immediately disagree with the comment that the finals of 1960 and 1962 were better games than 2005. Has anyone actually watched the 1960 final between Real and Eintracht ? I have. It belongs to a bygone era of baggy shorts and goalkeepers wearing flat caps. Real had players like DiStefano, Puskas & Ghento who were ahead of their time which reflects the 7-3 score line but Loy, the Eintracht keeper, ambled around his penalty area chasing Real shots without either foot leaving the surface, a modern day goalkeeper would have kept the score down to three at least, the rest of the game was played at a walking pace. The same could be said for the '62 final an era where attack was the best form of defence, very little tactics just a case of who can outscore the opposition, think basketball, there was a good comeback from Benfica though !
It's a great shame that even these pages are sullied by armchair Chelsea and Man United fans who don't have the mental capacity to discuss, just criticize. Everything is so black and white to them, it's little wonder though as neither sets of fans have any real European experience. One United final in 39 years compared to Chelsea's magnificent Cup Winners Cup.
Without a doubt Benitez saw Milan's demolition of United in the semi final and picked an over cautious formation but then he probably would have erred on the side of caution anyway, it's his way and given his previous record in European competition who can blame him ? Lets not kid ourselves, Liverpool are not a great side but they are a major European force, the nature of the premier European cup competition has changed significantly since the conception of the Champions League and you can be successful with a solid formation and the ability to outlast your opponents, the very fact that no one has won the competition back to back since Milan in 89 & 90 proves that flair and imagination are no guarantee of success. All this points to many more final appearances in the coming years for the men from Anfield, next time Senor Benitez may get the balance of Istanbul & Athens just right.

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Madrid/esp

DAVIDWORTH

Fair play, nice post, do you think Liverpool will appear in more CL finals with Benitez ? Oh no, what will become of the beautiful game ?

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London/gbr

@RAFASBENEATHUS

I realise you are new to the Blog, what usually happens is that the blogs are hijacked by Liverpool fans who probably dont read the article

----------------------------

RAFASBENEATHUS - refer you back to the 3rd comment on this blog where a Chelsea fan admits to reading the first paragraph, then writing a comment.

(If they'd managed to read another few paras, they'd have seen a Guardian journalist actually complimenting Mourinho... perhaps it was the shock?!)

This is a problem with some bloggers, regardless of what team they support.

Let's not get in a debate about which supporters are more likely to hijack a blog!

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London/gbr

@RAFASBENEATHUS

We may forge tickets, charge police, nick other people's seats, grieve too much, nick hubcaps, blame everyone else etc. but please don't accuse us of hijacking blogs!

You've gone too far this time.

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Madrid/esp

DAVIDWORTH

The worst offenders on here are Liverpool fans, really, the blog has been taken over by them , no criticism of their team is allowed and they forget or probably dont know the Guardian is a national newspaper with an international edition, the blog is a love in for lFC fans it is rare for MANU and Chelsea fans to even contribute to this blog.

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London/gbr

Maybe there's more left-wing intelligent Liverpool fans out there than you possibly dare imagine? It all started with Gerrard getting into art.

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London/gbr

The thought just struck me that tomorrow Paul Wilson will, in all probability, be posting his take on events in Athens * Shudder * Run for the hills.

Incidentally, in the league two playoff this afternoon, Bristol Rovers have a front pairing of Lambert and Butler. Made me laugh. Wheeze ;)

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Stevenage/gbr

RAFASBENEATHUS

Ok yeah let's talk about the Scots Cup Final...........err..........erm.....zzzzzzzz

SCAR - agree completely

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London/gbr

@GuyClinch - hallelujah, someone has mentioned football without talking about Liverpool, Chelsea etc.! I used to work with a couple called Benson & Hedges.

@RAFASBENEATHUS - you're wrong to claim this blog has been taken over by Liverpool fans, and that "no criticism of their team is allowed".

Sure, there's some bloggers like that, but they're from every side. Seriously, this isn't a tribal thing: some football fans are like that.

Personally, I support Liverpool but I am very open to talking openly about Liverpool's weaknesses & the strengths of Man U, Chelsea etc. I applauded some of the football Man U played this season. Much as Mourinho winds me up, I have every admiration for this tactical and managerial brilliance. And I'd love Liverpool to play with the same verve as Arsenal at their best. I want Arsenal to return to form because FOR THE GOOD OF FOOTBALL, I want there to be more competition at the top of the game.

Some come on, you've got to admit that not all Liverpool fans are stereotypes. Envy is a powerful thing: let's be honest here, Liverpool fans are envious of Chelsea because we can't attract Essien or Kalou, and Chelsea fans are envious of Liverpool because of their success in Europe.

But that envy doesn't stop me respecting how Chelsea play. But equally, I think I should be allowed to voice my opinion that if Chelsea played a slightly more attacking game, relying less on the defensive midfield fulcrum, they'd scare most of the top teams across Europe. I think it's time Mourinho let some of the shackles off.

Just cos I support Liverpool, doesn't mean that's not a reasoned, intelligent argument.

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Madrid/esp

BUONAROTTI,


Keep up the good work.

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Stevenage/gbr

All this talk of football games and cup finals being boring these days is starting to get, well, boring.

To pretend that football games in the past were always thrillers is just misplaced nostalgia. Watch some old tapes - fact is games have always varied in quality and entertainment. Going back to Liverpool v Man U in the 90s and beyond.

Liverpool have been involved in two of the most exciting finals ever in the last three years and countless other exciting and entertaining games along the way. And there have been moments of real quality. I always find it hilarious that Keith Houchen's header or, whisper it, Ricky Villa's sketchy run and scuffed shot are placed higher than Stevie G's last minute equalizer in last season's cup final.

I have a theory. The people complaining about the quality and entertainment of games nowadays are "new fans". The ones rescruited by Sky and the new dawn of the Premiership and family friendly football. Perhaps these people are starting to realise that they don't actually like football!

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Madrid/esp

BOUNAROTTi

Maybe you are right, theres been a lot of Liverpool over the last week, fatigue is setting in, if MIRO is having a rest so will i, enjoy your weekend.

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Clydebank/gbr

At last a a sensible article written by a seasoned football writer who knows what he is talking about. My faith has been restored in football journalism.

I could not understand why Benitez waited an extra 10 mins to bring Crouch on when he should have come on at the same time as Kewell; whether Kewell should have come on is debatable. maybe it was a message to the board saying" look, i have to use a player who has not kicked a ball all season; I need more quality'.

I think Crouch's presence threw the Milanese defense allowing Kyut to be left unmarked at the back for the goal.

Before the game people talked of Alonso or Mascherano picking up kaka. Well it seemed that Mascherano was doing most of the picking up. Perhaps Alonso shold have come off instead of M thus maintaining strong marking of Kaka.

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Manchester/gbr

Great post by Kokomo ... as always

David Lacey is hit and miss with his opinions at the best of times, although his writing is intelligent and generally good reading. This one is definitely one to file in the 'glaring miss' folder, along with many of his other pieces on GU.

It's not quite 'a Ronny Rosenthal' or 'a Ryan Giggs', more of 'an Eidur Gudjohnsen', in that, despite appearances, there wasn't realy much to aim at in the first place that hadn't already been covered by someone else closer to the line. But as we all know, Eidur got the chance to get it right eventually, even if it turned out to be to no avail ;o)

Every relevent angle of the Athens post-mortem has been done already, but, in an attempt to at least be original, David Lacey's made the mistake of deciding to criticise Rafa for some tactical limitations that he is supposed to have, which is something akin to criticizing Miles Davis for not playing enough notes or for using a mute on his trumpet. Paul Wilson will be much nearer the mark than David, as he usually is, and will no doubt have found an original line to spin, as he usually does. I think that Paul, ever the one to flirt with controversy, will probably be writing about the crowd trouble, and it will probably be quite good.

DavidWorth

Great post and very original. I've seen bits of footage from those games too but was unable to work out what all the fuss has been about. The legend of Arthur and Camelot spring to mind. Maybe they are due for some re-analysis, the subject for one of GU's 'On Second Thoughts' maybe?

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Benitez's tactics are effective, but they're far from bulletproof.

Seems to me that what lost Liverpool the final was the very same thing that got them there in the first place: intransigence.

The blueprint for Liverpool in cup competitions is caution, defend in numbers, stifle the midfield and spring the occasional attack. As has been said before, it works a treat if you're on level terms and even better when defending a lead. When forced to chase the game, however, not so much. Once Milan scored, they had their own game plan thrown back in their faces and didn't or couldn't react. It's worth noting that for all their so-called first half dominance, Dida was properly tested only once (Pennant's effort). And their best second half chance, for Gerrard, wasn't self-engineered but rather came from a Gattuso error.

The implication, therefore, is that Liverpool are a proactive team rather than a reactive one. Taken in isolation, it's by no means a bad thing, though the very best teams are adept at both. No matter how disciplined you are, you can still be breached. If SAF is guilty of refusing to make provisions for the opposition, the "we'll do it our way" approach, then so too is Benitez as a stickler for the opposite reasons. By refusing to break the shackles, his team became hostage to their own tactical fortunes.

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Manchester/gbr

thither

'Liverpool are a proactive team rather than a reactive one.'

Then explain away the two high-profile 'reactions' in the CL Final in 2005 and the FA Cup final in 2006.

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Aberdeen/gbr

Alonso had no need to commit the foul that led to the first goal. It was careless, nonchalent play. He made a lot of mistakes and generally didn't seem very committed.

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Liverpool/gbr

I must disagree. Yes, Benitez likes to set his teams up to be hard to beat but the only difference between him and Mourinho is the quality of their attacking players, not necessarily the mindset.

As for Jose having the ability to adapt to the fluctuating requirements of big matches, does that mean lump it to Drogba or tell Lampard to shoot from anywhere? Jose certainly didn't adapt to two Champions League semis and an FA Cup semi final against Liverpool. In fact, his arrogance caused him to lose the latter when he tried to out smart Rafa just for the sake of it.

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RAFAKEEPSBEATINGME - there is too much Liverpool on the GU Blog , so much so that their fans forget it is a national newspaper and not a lovefest for them


. . . . . . . . .

I absolutely agree with RAFA KEEPS BEATING ME.

There are too many blogs on Liverpool.

There are 4 blogs at the moment -

Liverpool got everything right but their selection (509) comments
Tinkering coach fails tactical test (298) comments
Ben�tez's call for cash would raise price of failure (227) comments
Technocrat to blame for Athens anti-climax Comments (65)

I can understand that GU wants to get readership and picking a popular club like Liverpool with the best supported team whom people just love to read is a dead cert

And the GU want people to post. Looking at 509, 298 and 227 posts means people just love talking about a winner like Liverpool.

But please, please, please, GU, write some blogs about the smaller, less popular, less successful and less well supported clubs like Chelsea, Man U or Arsenal.

When its Liverpool every blog and its Liverpool this and Liverpool that, it causes a lot of envy and jealousy and feelings of insecurity amongst the supporters of the smaller clubs.

I know its important to have popular blogs with many posts but please have some blogs on the smaller and less popular teams as well.

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Liverpool/gbr

twinger

Alonso was put in a bad situation by Carragher's poor clearence.

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A fair and balanced view of the final - my comment would be why did Liverpool look so lacklustre throughout the game - it was almost as if they didnt believe that they could win.

It was a bizarre final in that the tactics in the first half were correct albeit that Alonso conceded a needless free-kick and no-one was tracking Inzhagi which is strange given he likes to score from rebounds.

Of more concern was what happened next - there was no major change in tactics and the team did not seem roused out of their torpor to win. This is the hardest part to fathom and where those with more emotion such as Mourinho, Sir Alex and even Wenger seem to rise to the game. They cajole they push they emote - albeit too much at times. In this instance Benitez seemed to have the confidence in those on the pitch but they didnt seem to have confidence in themselves. This is hard to bear or understand. It must have been painful for Bellamy who overdoes it from time to time to see the lack of passion the clenched fists the exhortations.

Sublime it was not - the better team won - and all credit to Benitez for not carping on at the end of the game - he accepted defeat in a way that does him credit. But during the game !

Thank you David Lacey for asking the question we all needed to ask - where was the passion ?

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Sevenoaks/gbr

I don't think the result makes Rafa a worse manager - his tactics worked for most of the half. What concerned me though was:

1) selecting Zenden.
2) taking off Mascho
3) not putting Crouch on until the very end.

So I think that there were some mistakes made, but of course had liverpool got a goal first I think we'd have walked it - as milan did. So luck plays a part.

Looking forward to next season I think the defence and midfield are solid but we could do with some quality cover there and a properly good winger. Its our attacking options that need urgent consideration. Villa, Eto etc are too risky. We need a player that has a record of scoring 15-20 premiership goals a season - mccarthy or bent?

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MarvinGaye

I thought it was pretty self-explanatory; that is, Liverpool are more a proactive team than a reactive one. The two examples you cite are exceptions to the rule. I may be off the mark, but their overall record when it comes to 'reacting' to a deficit is poor. When they fall behind, they tend to lose, or, at best, end up drawing. That holds up for both those cup finals which they trailed in before clawing it back to a 3-3.

Also, Istanbul was surely more a case of no pressure and nothing to lose in the second half yielding unexpected dividends. Reaction yes, reactive no, since the latter carries the expectation of the former, and no one realistically could have claimed that it would have made a difference in any case at half time.

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London/gbr

Just time to post before settling down to watch Shrewsbury vs Bristol Rovers; given that 200000 plus supporters will be at the new Wembley over the weekend, couldn't GU have commissioned a blog on the play-offs?

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London/gbr

GuyClinch - it's a great point you make.

Reading the front page of the Guardian Sports website, you'd think the only things that mattered in football are Liverpool & Beckham/McLaren.

No mention of the play-offs.

Also, a blog about Jonny Wilkinson vs The Springboks, but nothing about Australia vs Wales - Wales played superbly.

More variety please, Guardian website editors.

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Manchester/gbr

Every football writer with a column to fill this week isn't going to write about anything other than Milan vs Liverpool. It's a bit tough on the non-Liverpool fans but maybe it's sort of inevitable because it happened to be the biggest game of the entire English, Italian and European season or something. If there isn't anything on the blogs that these people like, maybe they should consider alternative action rather than just whining about it and, to quote Rob Smyth ... 'do one'.

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Manchester/gbr

thither

... or maybe you were just wrong? ;o)

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Manchester/gbr

"Reading the front page of the Guardian Sports website, you'd think the only things that mattered in football are Liverpool & Beckham/McLaren.

No mention of the play-offs.

Also, a blog about Jonny Wilkinson vs The Springboks, but nothing about Australia vs Wales - Wales played superbly.

More variety please, Guardian website editors."


A Liverpool blog always evokes a massive wind-up, that is the reason behind it.

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Manchester/gbr

Actually GU is never home of Liverpool

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Madrid/esp

If we have to include pre-1965 football games we must suppose that Uraguay are a better international side than England or France, that Dixie Dean is worth two Drogbas and that Milan could win the Champions League for the next five years. Nonsense! Harking back to 5:3 finals of yesteryear is pithy and irrelevant.
Though he is correct in questioning Benitez's substituting acumen. One cannot help but wonder if Benitez would make a better back-room boy than Commander-in-chief.
His greatest moment, the second half in Istanbul, saw to completely obscure his daftest, the first half in Istanbul. What Liverpool fan wasn't stupified by the inclusion of Traore and Kewell, 'maybe he knows something we don't' they thought, when in fact, it was the other way around.
Taking off Mascherano on Wednesday was the defining moment of the game, not Inzaghis 'shoulder-of-God' incident. Benitez cocked the gun in his holster and it went off but four minutes later.
Milan didn't win, Liverpool lost it!

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Nottingham/gbr

It's easy to say all that in hindsight, but before the game what team would you have picked? What formation would you have picked? It's easy to say I would have played X here and Y here after the game. You're not in Rafa's shoes and I don't think Liverpool would have been in the final had you been as I thoroughly believe Rafa is the best man for the job. Maybe that's naive, but not as naive as trying to out think someone in hindsight and believeing you are right[er].

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London/gbr

Surely GU could have canned Nicky Campbell's blog in place of something on the play-offs ;)

It's entirely appropriate that so many cloumn inches have been devoted to the Champs league final; however, enough is enough, I'm beginning to get Rafa fatigue

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Toulouse/fra

Another sound article from David Lacey, even(with the benefit of hindsight) in his criticism of the FA Cup final, a game which did not rise to expectations even if I was and remain delighted at the result.

No one knows his players better than a team manager. Ergo,even if on paper Benitez had good ideas about how to stifle Milan and to score on the counter-attack, it was only going to work if he had the players capable of doing so. He didn't, Milan won, and therefore the tactics were wrong. Taking off Mascherano was wrong, delaying Crouch's entrance was wrong, and the use of only one striker with inadequate supply from known underachieving wingers was wrong.

As for all the articles on LFC... well hello, the Premiership is over, the cup competitions done and dusted, and only the playoffs remain. What else are the journos going to write about? Yes, the Beckham recall is fascinating, but many of us felt he should never have been dropped in the first place.

My personal favourite blog regarding last Wednesday is the Greg Roughley one about the problems outside the stadium at Athens,, not because of the article itself but because of the insights into what went on before the game and the (unknown to me) animosity against the non-native LFC supporters. It is a real eye-opener and deserves to be read widely. Particulary worthy of mention is a post from Evildrunkenthug.

Before the game, I had expressed the opinion that the behaviour of the fans would be as important as the result ( and others went further than that) and in the immediate aftermath I praised both sets of fans. Now, sadly, it seems that I was wide of the mark.....

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Chicago/usa

Jeez, Chelsea fans are thin skinned. This is an article about Liverpool not measuring up to Chelsea, not an anti-Chelsea article.

If you could possibly read the whole article rather than spontaneously combust and spew accusations of anti-Chelsea bias, you would see thoughts such as Benitez not having Mourinho's ability to adapt to the changing requirements of a game, or Liverpool players getting stage fright in front of goal, or Benitez completely messing up on substitutions.

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Manchester/gbr

In my opinion, this is extremely harsh. How can you complain about Mascherano coming off, and Crouch not coming on soon enough in the same article? If the substitution was done earlier, then Kaka is left alone longer. Alonso's passing can unlock defences, a winger would have meant moving Gerrard out wide which is what critics say dilutes his ability, and a defender would have just been asking for trouble. So, what would you have done?
Tactically, I think that Benitez had the measure of Milan. He decided to stretch them with two wingers, and it worked. In the end, the difference between the two teams was a bit of luck, and a bit of quality. The quality in front of goal that Inzaghi exhibited for the 2nd goal, is sadly what we've been missing all season. Hopefully, now we can afford top quality strikers we will have one.
If nothing else, the signing of Crouch exemplifies Benitez's abilities. Overcharged for an English player (because that never happens), he has turned a man who was seen as joke previously into somebody that David Lacey sees as the player to change a Champions League Final.
Benitez isn't infallible, but to jump on him because of one game seems, to me, lazy journalism.

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Rome/ita

I think Ancelotti deserves credit, I said his record in the CL was better than RB's weeks ago, now the distance has grown. In fact Ancelotti's record is up there with most I think.

RNB is good, but no genius, and there is no shame in that and he is very successful: Spanish league, Uefa Cup, CL win and finalist, it's good of course it is, excellent. So his philosophy/tactics can work. But you need to understand the other kingpin on the night surely, which barely anyone, if indeed anyone has in four blogs now. It's not RB's to win or lose, Carlo has a little say in it too. I suppose that this insularity/stubborness to accept or recognise the truth/presumption mirrors RB's on the night.

The way Milan controlled 2nd half is for me at least the telling part, his tactics in the match are great at 0-0 or even 1-0 up, but when 1-0 down he was too inflexible.

Yes the goal changed the course of the match but it was hard to see LFC doing much more than arriving at pens the way they were set up to play anyway. Never has someone "dominated" so much and done so little. But then the first goal is so vital always, it's how you respond? In my opinion LFC responded supinely. To my surprise and delight and delectation I must admit.

I am pleased the final avoided pens, always good to get a winner in full time if possible.

I'll say it if no-one else will well done Carlito.

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You know, one of the most interesting observations I've made over the last few days as it relates to blogging on the 'European Cup' final coverage is that I felt there has been rather a lot of nonsense spouted, and by those that I thought knew better, that knew their football.

Benitez should have played him. Benitez should have used him there instead. Benitez should have taken him off and replaced him with her. Benitez knew his personnel best (duh). Benitez got it wrong.

Many are willing to criticize and comment (and mainly in hindsight) but few actually have any real idea, other than untested hypothetical solutions ... in how to defeat Milan.

Plain and simple, Benitez based his gameplan on both his and milan's personnel. For the most part it worked ... the rest was down to players and fate.

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Even if Benitez got his tactics rights, he had failed to fit in the right players. Leaving Crouch out until the last 15 minutes was a big big tactical mistake, this is also the case of Bellamy. Over the season, it could be easily seen that Benitez, although may be good at tactics, only used those players whom he liked. It appeared that he definitely didn't like Crouch or Bellamy, sometimes I also wonder whether he actually wanted Gerrard in the team. My view is that he only reluctantly put in Gerrard and let him play in the central midfield because of the fans' wishes. Otherwise he would not have put Gerrard here, there and everywhere. Anyone agree?

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Rome/ita

crazysweeper: it seems posible he doesn't rate gerrard in central midfield and prefers to position him on the right with a licence to move around (not think too much basically just go for it). IMHO he could be on to something.

I wonder if he wasn't at home praying in the manner of Kaka that Gerrard would go to Chelsea on both (that we know of) occasions he was keen to leave? A lot of money for a major England player (one of the golden generation no less) if you don't really trust them to play in their preferred/media-championed position in central midfield?

Could be wrong: fun to speculate, a very thought-provoking post I think Crazysweeper.

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London/gbr

"Liverpool have warned rival clubs hoping to take advantage of Rafael Ben�tez's desire to reshape his squad that Craig Bellamy, one of the players for whom the manager would listen to offers, will only be sold for around �12m.
The Wales international moved to Anfield from Blackburn Rovers last summer for half that amount but, despite Bellamy struggling to adapt to Ben�tez's squad rotation system, Liverpool hope for a significant profit on his sale. Blackburn are keen to re-sign the forward but could now be priced out. West Ham and Aston Villa have expressed interest and could make formal bids"

As reported in the GU sport pages

----------------------------------------------------------

Here's another canny piece of business.

Make it clear thia player has no future at the club.

Then put him on the market at twice his original value.

The value must have risen due to lack of use.

Low mileage.

:)

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Sheffield/gbr

To follow on from Crazysweeper/JazzyB: I know this will be heretical to some Liverpool fans but maybe, just maybe, Gerrard is a teensy bit overrated and maybe, just maybe, Rafa holds this opinion.

To play devil's advocate for a moment, consider Gerrard's major shortcoming, he is too excitable. This manifests itself in rash tackles, 'hollywood' passes to touch-lines, shots from 25+ yards when teammates may be better positions. This is also responsible for his tendency to lose discipline and charge around every area of the pitch trying to get involved.

Of course, when this comes off, the long pass/shot/thumping tackle/all-action display is spectacular or heroic. But when it doesn't, he doesn't seem to have the ability to simply play for the team. By that I mean forego the limelight and the do the simple things well for the benefit of those around him. He could never play a true holding role, nor could he play the pirlo-esque passing 'hub'. He also doesn't seem suited to any pace other than flat-out.

So in short, yes I agree Rafa doesn't share the English media/Liverpool fans' unshakable faith in Gerrard.

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Manchester/gbr

GuyClinch

'It's entirely appropriate that so many cloumn inches have been devoted to the Champs league final; however, enough is enough, I'm beginning to get Rafa fatigue'

Will whoever is responsible please remove the gun from poor GuyClinch's head so that he can do something else rather than HAVE to read and contribute to blogs about Liverpool and Rafa.

Retentiveanal

'Now, sadly, it seems that I was wide of the mark.....'

Don't be so hard on yourself, the habits of a lifetime can't be changed overnight ;o)

mynamehere

Name a club side anywhere in the world that Gerrard would not be an automatic starting player, without making anybody laugh in the process.

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Rome/ita

Don't get me wrong I think SG is a very very good player, I think he could have been better, (subtler or more cultured, composed) if he had not been exposed to Houllier and Ericsson, who encouraged the hollywood pass for Owen.

He is certainly very highly rated in Italy and rightly so, but it does seem a little strange that RB will not play him in the centre always. I don't think he is good enough to build a team around at the very highest level, which is where LFC play at, many do of course. It will be interesting to see what RB has in store for him if as reported he really does have huge sums to spend.

I'd play him on the right of midfield for Engalnd too, personally. He is bar Beckham, the best crosser of the play England has, in fact bar his booming shot, I think his crossing is up there with the best in football today.

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Rome/ita

crosser of the ball I meant.

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London/gbr

On the subject of myths to be stifled:

Possession: Milan 53%, Liverpool 47% (official UEFA statistics).

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London/gbr

Shots on target: Milan 3, Liverpool 4

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Sheffield/gbr

Marvin, for the sake of argument I'll name you the first two I think of. Milan and Barca. Both teams play in a very particular style, with quite well defined roles. None of them play a Gerrard-type all-action box-to-box (whatever your favoured term) midfielder. I don't think those teams would sign him as he wouldn't fit in to their systems and I'm not convinced he would adapt.

But ultimately that's beside the point. I was responding to the question of whether Benitez has complete belief in him as a central midfielder and I stand by my previous post. That's not to denigrate Gerrard as a player. Benitez, like Ancelotti and Rijkaard, has a preferred system. Gerrard doesn't quite fit in to it and hasn't shown enough signs of adapting for Benitez to consistently play him in CM. If Benitez believed he was the best CM for Liverpool, he would play him, surely?

Did I make you laugh?

Do you have any analytical thoughts on the matter yourself?

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Rome/ita


Add Milan to that list.

I think many of europe's top teams, the ones that like to pass the ball around in midfield would all have doubts about starting with Gerrard, esp in central midfield, as does RB and Liverpool, though LFC are not renowned for passing the ball around in midfield. SG would be good back up for Barca, Arsenal, Milan etc if they needed a bit of energy last 20. Could be a back up for Europe's top passing teams.

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Lincoln/usa

I think all this negativity about Gerrard is ridic. Kaka said on Sky yesterday that he thought Gerrard was the best English player, the player he would most like to play alongside. If Rafa has moved Gerrard around it is, I think, bc he has found himself with an embarasssment of riches in central midfield and thinks Gerrard is the most versatile of these players. As others have said you have to credit Milan for stifling Gerrard's play.

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Bergenfield/usa

1. Look how far down you have to scroll before someone complimented (or even mentioned) Ancellotti...

2. Gun to your head: Mourinho or Rafa to manage your side?
I'm taking Jose w/o batting an eye.


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Toulouse/fra

Marvin

I suppose the habits you are talking about are those of Mooey, Scully and all the other no-marks who delight in bringing the fine city of Liverpool into disrepute! Those scallies on the Red + White Kop site, eh?

You can take a la' out of Liverpool but....

Glad you have recovered from Wednesday and business is as normal, even though I thought your post on the Roughley blog almost as worthy as Evildrunkenthug.

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Chicago/usa

Overall I think this is a good critique of Benitez's tactics; players in the wrong positions, substitutions made too late and for the wrong players.

However, I think David Lacey looks at things through rose-coloured glasses just a bit; not too surprising given he's been around a while. But what I've seen of the highlights reel of 1960 betrays some slack defending by Eintracht, of a kind you just don't see any more at this level. Maybe Real had too much pace for Eintracht to stay organized -- I haven't seen any other footage of these two teams from that era -- but some of the goals seem to have been given up very easily. The only clear defensive screw-up in Istanbul was around Milan's first goal; first the clumsy foul by Traore and then defenders missing the players they were supposed to mark on the free kick. Another thing worth mentioning is that neither Real nor Eintracht seemed to take much of a chance with aerial passing; it was a game played on the ground, a lot like the successful teams of the 1970s. Now, a lot of the passing takes place through the air, yet, unlike in the past when "long-ball" got its bad name through inaccuracy, the new generation of aerial passing is stunningly accurate, at least when off the feet of the likes of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard when playing from midfield, and so on (Kaka keeps it closer to the ground). Granted, today's players have the luxury of a lighter and better-assembled ball, but still, it's something impressive that we did not used to see a lot.

There are very few easy goals to be had any more, and that alone marks Liverpool and Milan's achievement in 2005 as impressive.

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Sheffield/gbr

Legion, I would agree that Gerrard is the most versatile of Liverpool's central midfielders, and I'm not trying to claim he's a bad player. But I don't believe Benitez would play him out of central midfield if he believed Gerrard to be Liverpool's best central midfielder. It just wouldn't make sense to play Gerrard out of his 'best' position and play an 'inferior' alternative in his stead. If you thought you had the world's best central midfielder, you wouldn't buy three more so you can play the best one on the right.

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London/gbr

All this talk of guns to heads is making me nervous.

Marvin

As a long time reader I respect the wit and erudition of your posts; as a newbie I'd ask that you disregard my more jejune posts. I promise to be more judicious in hitting the "post your comment" button in future.

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Corruption rears its ugly head in football again in Italy, home of the Mafia.

Bob Woolmer will be turning in his grave at not being allowed to speak out again.

Perhaps because Prodi wanted to be Prime Minister of Italy, he pointed out the obvious truth that Berlusconis team was corrupting the referees in order to win and he got investigators to prove it and action to be taken, no mean feat, in order to tarnish Berlusconi.

Now Berlusconi, owner of TV stations and initiator of Pay TV and the Champions League, perhaps wants his team to win and thus get ahead of Prodi and so he manages to get into the League this season and then wins the Champions League.

The first goal was a handball by Inzaghi.

The referee did not see it.

There were no slow motion shots on TV proving the handball.

There are only a few small comments on the internet about it.

Politics is connected with football. Due to the feelgood factor of the winning team, governments are kept in power and elections are won. So like all politics, when necessary it must be fixable and corruptable. Did the French secret service poison Ronaldo in the World Cup final when France won? You only have to understand the reasons behind the Maradona 'Hand of God' incident on the politics of the Faulklands torturing Generals of Argentina to see that.

To help prevent corruption it would be so easy to have an off-field video watching referee to rule on fouls, but this would be against referee corruption and the fixability of games and thus perhaps EUFA, FIFA and governments do not want this at the highest level, otherwise, why not?

And in any match fixing, to be truly certain enough to put your shirt on the match the night before when you can get the best odds, as many people did in the UK, it is necessary to corrupt the other side as well as the referee. Perhaps the Moores gambling family who have enough nous to get out of the way when the big Bush cabal owning Hicks Kahuna come into town have sufficient influence to give favours to Berlusconi when this other Big Kahuna comes asking. Football agents can perform the same function.

Who missed the goal three times?

And who is the great tactical genius who left Crouch or Bellamy out until 10 minutes before the end of the game so it couldn't easily be turned around? After one goal down it is necessary to attack!

Taking off Mascherano on Wednesday was the defining moment of the game, not Inzaghis 'Shoulder-of-God' incident. Benitez cocked the gun in his holster and it went off but four minutes later.

Milan didn't win, Liverpool lost it!

Bringing the Corruption Concept into football can help explain a lot of what is happening behind the scenes and its possibility is not talked about too much in the media and these blogs.

We, the fans do not want the fix and thus want fairness to be built in to the refereeing system.

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Washington/usa

satchi,

Em...

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Brentford/gbr

I actually thought Benitez tactically got the better of Ancelotti in the final. The simple reason being that the disparity in quality of the teams was not reflected in the somewhat fortuitous scoreline in Milan's favour.

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Manchester/gbr

The CL final was fixed???

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Brighton/gbr

Bernitez has spent 100million on new players, so why do some people here play the pity him card- he had to make the most of what he has. He signed those players with the exception on the good ones ie Gerrard and Carragher. The first step towards being a great manager is the ability to identify the right players. He was given, and has spent more than 100million so please....

He also managed to kick his best striker out of the squad. Cisse was Liverpool's best striker and he scored goals in all competition. But Bernitez does not like him. How is crouch or Bellamy or Kuyt better than Cisse? I doubt his ability to spot and use a good player.

Sissoko was massive against Barca, yet he has altogether dropped him for Mascerano. Is the latter a better player? I do not think so

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Manchester/gbr

Bernitez has spent 100million on new players in the period of THREE years.

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Manchester/gbr

Benitez isn't *that* bad in the transfer market... relatively speaking....

Benitez signings:

10.5m - Xabi Alonso
9m - Dirk Kuyt
7m - Peter Crouch
6.7m - Jermaine Pennant
6.3m - Fernando Morientes
6m - Luis Garcia
6m - Jose Reina
6m - Craig Bellamy
5.8m - Daniel Agger
5.6m - Momo Sissoko
4.5m - Mark Gonzalez
2.6m - Alvaro Arbeloa
2m - Josemi
2m - Gabriel Paletta
0.75m - Scott Carson
Free - Pellegrino
Free - Zenden
Free - Fowler
Free - Aurelio
Free - Javier Mascherano

Rafa's total new signing is less than 100mil

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Manchester/gbr

Rafa's new signings during his reign is less than 85mil.

That is the fact!

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Lincoln/usa

myname: I'm just thinking of the equation. Given the players available, if you put Gerrard and Mascherano (or Momo) in central midfield with, say Riise out left and Pennant out right you have a situation where Pennant plays and Alonso doesn't--it seems like madness (even tho it has made sense to me at times) bc Alonso is so much better than Pennant. Even if Rafa does think Gerrard is the best central midfielder he has it must be tempting to put him out right in order to get the best players on the pitch. I'm not saying Rafa is right, just that this seems to be the logic. The lure of buying Alves, Eto'o, and Tevez, even if just a pipe dream, is so strong bc it would solve all these issues, esp. if Alonso goes to Barca. Liverpool could then play a proper 442 with Eto'o leading the line, Tevez just behind, Alves on the right, and Masch/Momo and Gerrard in CM. Kuyt, Voronin, Crouch could then be rotating players to give the primary XI a break.

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Crouch and Bellamy are those players who need matches to keep their sharpness. Kuyt too. There are seldom strikers who can perform by giving them only ten minues every game, perhaps, Solskjaer could do it a few years ago. Even Drogba can't be. If you are not going to start them regularly, why bought Crouch and Bellamy. Kuyt, Crouch and Bellamy altgether cost 22m. For this sum, a good striker could be landed.

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Manchester/gbr

Retentive

I'm sorry RA, I don't recall a 'Roughley blog', which blog do you mean? Can you post a link? Nice touch with the Scully thing, Iseewotyerdidderwidat.

GuyClinch

I was only thinking for your personal safety GC ... don't mention it. It seems to have scared that dude with the piece away. I'm glad that you're able to join us again after such a tortuous ordeal, you old flatterer.

mynamehear

I see what you mean, but if he wanted to play for either of those clubs, he could.

Milan would be the most likely destination. The combination of playing one striker supported by Kaka and Gerrard is interesting too. But ... I was wondering if Kaka's comments about wanting to play with Gerrard really meant; Come and get me Rafa. So when George and Tom sign Kaka for us I'm hoping that the lone striker will be Luis Garcia, Carlos Tevez, Michael Owen or Dimitar Berbatov :o) ... nurse, nurse, more of my medicine please, 'the voices' are back.

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