The drivel written since the mid-week defeat against Besiktas has been laughable. It’s been written in the media – spoken about on Sky – and worst of all written by reds fans on most of the Liverpool FC forums.
It’s been pretty amusing stuff.
Back in August I don’t remember discussing the importance of the Champions League with a great many people. In fact, whenever the discussion about our priorities for the season ahead it was always about the Premiership. We went a 21 year wait without the European Cup until Rafa landed it in his first season in charge. If you can’t remember as far back as May then you may remember we were in a position to land number 6. Benitez has a European record second to nobody in recent times.
Meanwhile, the 19th Championship has eluded Liverpool for what will be 18 years by May.
That is where everybody insisted our focus should be and that’s where our priorities should stay. Wednesday’s game in Istanbul wasn’t pretty – but on reflection we were by far the better side. They scored a lucky own goal and our own luck had deserted us in front of goal. Their supporters were fantastic – and we all know ourselves the power of a passionate home support in the European Cup.
The fact is that Benitez is acutely aware from listening to the clubs supporters and no doubt the directors at Anfield, that while Champions League progression is an important part of our club (and we do still aim to win every competition we enter) the ‘bread and butter’ as Shanks used to call it – is what we crave above all others.
To this end Liverpool have enjoyed their best start to a league campaign for years. Surprising because we have been playing some pretty poor football but we have still managed to save some results from the fire and even taken our share of bad luck in the process (as well as some fortunate luck).
The team that Benitez picked in Istanbul proved to me that he too has realised that our priorities lay with the Premiership. Alonso was not risked even though he was on the bench and Torres was left at home to continue his recuperation – all designed with an eye on the Sunday game.
Rafa is thinking about Arsenal, and most sensible reds are thinking about Arsenal. They have had a fantastic start and we are also unbeaten, and something will have to give. Even if Arsenal do take all three points we will still be well placed for a title challenge, and a victory will provide a much needed boost of confidence.
The media may try to stir up the issue – but Benitez’ gameplan is most definitely on the right track. At this point last season the title had disappeared over the horizon – this time round nobody dare write us off.