Friday, January 12, 2007

Premiership: a defence of Benitez and Mourinho (!)

It's a bit odd watching the fireworks in the Premiership from the point of view of a neutral, but perhaps that gives me the benefit of some unbiased insight - which makes the whole thing seem at times utterly ridiculous.


Oh, man, Liverpool. I feel terrible for Luis Garcia - his season is pretty much over, which sucks on its own, but now a triumphant return to Barcelona in February isn't going to happen. It's easy to say that an enormous goal threat in European competition has been removed from the tie, but Luis was a part of the Barcelona youth program. When he was playing for Barca B, that team also contained current club captain Carles Puyol, current third captain Xavi, and Gabri Garcia (now of Ajax) amongst others. They won promotion to the Spanish second division in 1998, relying amongst other things on goals scored by Luis, made by Xavi. So there's an emotional connection there, and I'm sad he's going to miss the match.

For those criticising Benitez, remember he's not in an easy position. I have a lot of sympathy for him, despite the fact that you have to place some of the blame for a defeat like the latest on the coach. After all, Arsenal had 6 shots on goal and scored 6 goals. That's not acceptable from the defence. That said, and I know this is not a popular opinion right now, those who say that he should have concentrated on the Carling Cup as their last realistic chance of silverware are mistaken. Remember how everyone said that Manchester United had merely won a consolation for other failures in the League and the Champions League when they won it last season?

Benitez has to worry about a good finish in the Premiership, preferably automatic qualification to the Champions League for next season (which is not going to be easy, obviously) and start thinking about the tie against Barca. Being out of cup competition might actually help in that respect, since their fixture list is now a lot lighter than say, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd or Barca's.

(Speaking as a Barcelonista, I can't help but worry that these two defeats against Arsenal only makes Liverpool more dangerous in the Champions League: after all, if it's their last shot at silverware this season and they've got their backs against the wall, we all know how Benitez's team can rise to such occasions.)

He's spent a lot of money, some of it on players who haven't worked out, but doesn't that happen to everybody? The problem he has had with the Liverpool board seems to be that while he gets a reasonable sum to splash around, having a 40 million dollar transfer kitty can feel very different when you need 3 world-class players to complete your team or 8. Obviously the quality of players who do end up coming are going to suffer for that. Think about it - other than Xabi Alonso, how many other proper bidding wars have Liverpool won for a truly world-class player in the last 3 seasons when up against the other great clubs of Europe?

When not everybody in your squad is ready to give performances that don't shame the shirt they're wearing, (and taking injuries into account) some important players are going to end up playing too many games. It surprised me to read that some of the Liverpool team had played every game this season, given his famous preference for rotations, but it was inevitable. It's simply not physically possible, especially given the English season, for anyone to do that through the whole season. So Benitez is within his rights to rest key players.

Comparative statistic: no Barcelona player has played every game this season, nor in the previous one. Mind you, we did lose a cup game 4-2 (away to Zaragoza) when Rijkaard rested Puyol last season, which demonstrates the perils of rotating key players, but it's simply something that has to be done for practical and physical reasons.

It's hilarious to read about people criticising Benitez's attitude and aptitude towards the domestic cups. Have people already forgotten that he won the FA Cup last season? And then there are those who say that he had nothing to do with the miracle in Istanbul. Ever heard of the phrase 'game-changing substitutions'?


Regular readers (if there is any such thing) will know that I don't like Jose Mourinho very much. But I have to say, I feel bad for him right now. He's in a very difficult situation in regards to suspensions and injuries, and for me he's handled it as well as he possibly can. Every game he seems to have key players suspended (Makelele and Ashley Cole for the next game, for example) not to mention the impact losing John Terry has had.

At Barca, we know how you feel, Mou. People say that it's his fault the squad isn't deep enough, but a 20 man squad is hardly small. Barca have a 22 man squad, which I think is plenty - that's not a big difference. Mourinho's being hammered about the lack of quality back-up, but how many top class players are willing to sit on the bench waiting for a starter to get injured, regardless of the money? Is the irony not lost on those who persist on this point while going on about how criminal it is that the likes of Wright-Phillips are rotting on the Chelsea bench? So if he does dare to get some high quality substitutes, he's wasting talent?

Mourinho's aura as the perfect manager is shattered, there's no doubt about that. The number of duds in the current squad leads one to conclude that he's not the most astute shopper in the transfer market - either that, or he has no control over transfers, like a Spanish club coach. Neither are empowering images. But nevertheless, I don't think he's down and out just yet. Besides, he can hardly be blamed for the uselessness of the Chelsea youth system in producing players who are good enough to cover for the first team.

This is probably the only time you will ever see me defending Mourinho. If he ever turned up in La Liga I'd probably contemplate suicide. But really, people. Be reasonable. Piling on is unseemingly.


risingson said...

haha i knew you might come around with mourinho...

who knows, maybe you two might be friends one day.

Your points on Rafa's rotation system bodes well for Mascherano - if he does end up going to Liverpool. I also read about Bayern's interest in Riquelme. Riquelme can only play as a CAM in my opinion. So that would be a plus. But i think there's no way he would do well in Germany.

I'm actually surprised you haven't mentioned the drama of Riquelme in Villareal. Maybe it's still too emotional a subject for you...? lol

Mal O'Brien said...

Hi Linda. I agree with your comments about Rafa. Some of the criticism this week has been ridiculous. We're third in the league (ahead of Arsenal) and in the last 16 of the champions league. I hope that we can beat Barca next month but if we can't then I hope Barca go on and win it. Anyone other than Utd and Chelsea and I'm happy.

linda said...

risingson: Don't get me wrong, I'm probably never going to come around where he's concerned. I just feel like 1) I know how he feels because of Barca's own injury problems and 2) piling on like the press are doing isn't very nice.

(And of course I'm horrified at the prospect of him coming to La Liga. Please stay well away, Mou. I like the current lack of dishonourable behaviour in Spain from managers.)

I agree with you about Riquelme - I think the German league is too physical for him, and I can't see how it would work at Bayern with the stars they already have. He'll only ever be happy if he goes back to Boca.

As for the Villarreal saga...see my newest post. Sigh.

Mal: Welcome! I have to say, I defended Benitez with considerably more enthusiasm than Mourinho because I actually rate him as a manager and I like Liverpool a lot more than Chelsea.

Question for you, if you don't mind: what do you think of your prospects of a top 2 finish?

Mal O'Brien said...

I think it's quite unlikley that we'll finish top 2. If Chelsea had of continued their slump yesterday v Wigan then I would have said there's a fair chance as they have to come to Anfield on Sat. But now they have some confidence back and they are still 8 points ahead. There is talk that they'll have Cech back next week which is a huge boost for them. We tend to well against Chelsea in the cups but not in the league. Reckon it could be a draw on Sat which will keep Chelsea in front. We have an easier run in than them but I don't see us making up an 8 point gap between now and May unless they colapse altogether. Might get interesting if Mourinho were to resign. He is definitely going in the summer in my opinion.