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Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Sweetest Thing

As Manchester United were outplaying, out thinking and totally outclassing a lacklustre Chelsea side last week, the United fans at Old Trafford and the 11 on the pitch were making all the right noises – something Rafael Benitez had failed to do on the previous Friday.

Benitez had claimed at his press conference that United’s result against Chelsea would not matter ‘if we (Liverpool) win at Stoke’. Unfortunately for Benitez, Liverpool failed to beat Stoke (17th in the table) for the second time this season and United went on to thrash Chelsea.

United’s fans and players seemed inspired in what was arguably our strongest performance all season. It was as if they had been given the motivation and inspiration to show the rest of the Premiership exactly which team are the Champions. Coincidentally this came after Benitez’s untimely press conference.

For the best part of two months it has seemed like Liverpool fans have been becoming increasingly confident, smug and celebratory as their team has occupied top spot. Despite only being January, the majority of Liverpool fans have been happy to announce how sorry United would be in May and how disappointed Fergie was going to be that he hadn’t equalled Liverpool’s 18 titles. It was after watching Benitez’s press conference in full and having noticed the premature celebratory mood from Liverpool fans that I thought to myself that when United inevitably lift the title in May, this years Premiership title will be the sweetest yet.

Then I got the feeling I wasn’t the only one. In between the ironic cheers for John Terry, Old Trafford roared and asked; ‘Are you watching Merseyside?’

At his press conference Benitez told the waiting press what he thought about Mr Ferguson as he had scrawled a few ‘facts’ on a piece of A4 which he wanted to share. Admittedly, the timing could have been great, Liverpool could have battered Stoke and United could have lost or even drawn.

Upon first seeing the ‘Rafa rant’ I thought aspects of it were quite funny, particularly the suggestion the Fergie should compile the fixtures and send them to other Premier League managers. I am sure even the most ardent supporter would have chuckled at some of his comments. Then, the hilarity of it really began to sink in as Stoke held Liverpool to a goalless draw the following day.

The suggestion made by the press that Benitez was having a Kevin Keegan moment is perhaps a little inaccurate - inaccurate because Keegan could be forgiven. He was caught at a highly emotional moment without the opportunity to prepare a detailed response like Benitez did. He exploded in a rash moment of madness. The fact that Benitez went to the effort of finding examples, scenarios and ‘facts’ shows the man has been truly affected by the mind games from the master.

This carefully documented tirade would surely not have come from a man who is confident that his table toppers will continue their excellent form and win the Premier League. The bait laid by Ferguson should have been brushed of with a simple ‘we are top of the league, end of story’. If Benitez would have left the press conference after his first remarks then his credibility would have most definitely remained intact. Claiming Ferguson was nervous that Liverpool are top of the league would have sufficed in gaining an advantage in the mind-games stakes. As it is, Benitez has heaped pressure upon himself and his team by embracing Ferguson so early in the season.

While United have endured a disjointed spluttering start, Liverpool have, the majority of the time, been playing their best football and have built a small advantage at the top. Recently it had been suggested in some quarters that United were scared and worried about Liverpool being top. This was probably true of the majority of United fans, but, after the annihilation of Chelsea and with Benitez seemingly back to his ‘Tinkerman’ best, United fans are now filled with a sense of anticipation and excitement.

Of the 10 Premiership trophies won since Liverpool last claimed the title, there have been a few which have stood out as being sweeter than the rest. Winning it the first time, winning it in the treble year, last years victory and the title which ended Mourinho’s seemingly unstoppable reign were all special. For me though none of these would compare with the delight United fans will have when we beat Liverpool to the title. United and Ferguson seem to be finding some form at just the right time as Benitez and Liverpool are firing blanks. I suggest Liverpool fans and Rafa Benitez make room in the record books as Mr Ferguson is coming to collect United’s 18th title and, like many other United fans, for me this one will be the sweetest………………………………Back To Home Page.


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