• FT



    Man City


  • FT






Anfield, England

Attendance: 45009

* Local time based on your geographic location.


  • Daniel Sturridge 52'
  • Luis Suárez 90' +7'

2 - 2



  • Oscar 26'
  • Eden Hazard 57' PEN

Rafa returns home

John Brewin
While reviled by many of his own fans at Chelsea, Rafa Benitez remains revered at Anfield

It is the walk Rafa Benitez never wanted to make: off the team bus, through the familiar gates of Anfield, down the corridors - but into the away team's dressing room. After arriving in Liverpool in 2004, Benitez made the city his home, and it remains so. While he currently stays in a one-bedroom flat in Esher, Surrey, a few miles from Chelsea's Cobham training ground, his wife and two daughters still live in the family home on the Wirral.

In the 23 months Benitez was out of work after his sacking by Internazionale, he became part of the fabric of Liverpool life. When last week he talked of one day being back in Liverpool, he meant the city rather than the club - though he might still harbour dreams of eventually returning to the job that has defined him as a manager, despite considerable success elsewhere. There is unfinished business as far as he is concerned, but the time for his return to manage the club may now have passed.

His popularity in Liverpool perhaps increased after he was removed from his duties in June 2010. Benitez made it clear he was no mercenary gun for hire who had been just passing through. In Your Liverpool Home is a song applicable to the 53-year-old from Madrid.

His contribution of £96,000 of his severance pay to the Hillsborough Justice movement reflected a still-continuing commitment to the people of the city. Sunday will see a commemoration of Anne Williams, the mother who lost her 15-year-old son at the disaster and was a leading light of the 24-year campaign for justice, who lost her battle with cancer on Wednesday.

Despite his stoic public presence, and the somewhat atonal and repetitious manner in which he addresses the media, Benitez is an emotional man, but Sunday will see him need to be a professional man, too.

During the Benitez years, a powerful rivalry was forged between Liverpool and Chelsea; they played each other three times in Champions League semi-finals, and twice in the 2005-06 group stage as well. Yet Chelsea are his temporary employers, and he is determined to see out the job he was detailed with.

Last week's FA Cup semi-final defeat to Man City closed off one of his avenues to success and augmenting his CV. Wednesday wrenched open another as a crushing win at Fulham took advantage of Arsenal and Everton's 0-0 draw the previous night.

Objective one was cementing a top-four position, and it is within reach, while the Europa League semi-finals await. Chelsea are on the penultimate lap of a near 70-game season, but face a hugely difficult fixture list to complete it.

Liverpool have little to play for after a draw at Reading all but ended their European ambitions. Wigan's qualification for the FA Cup final also cut down the available Europa League spots from Premier League positions to one, and fifth place will go to one of the three London giants now, or perhaps Everton if Tottenham Hotspur stage a collapse.

Liverpool fans have looked to the top four all season, but have never been within that bracket at any point. Kenny Dalglish lost his job for missing out, but perhaps Brendan Rodgers' greatest success of the season has been to learn to lower expectations, despite having at one point set his sights on second place.

Since that error of rhetoric in December, Rodgers' team have dealt in promising for the future while never quite delivering in the here and now. A team that had scored the most of any in 2013 has just posted two goalless draws.

The current generation is in seventh place, where Benitez left them in 2010, and a place above Dalglish's final resting position. Rodgers will not be suffering the same fate as his predecessor since his American owners are more into building a project than the pair of cowboys with whom Benitez was lumbered.

Rodgers, though, does not quite have the full support of the Anfield faithful. He is yet to deliver the results that his public utterances of progress must meet, but also has excuses at hand. Progressing a team while simultaneously cutting the wage bill is one of football management's toughest balancing acts.

For the moment, and though it may go against what is close to his heart, Liverpool's progress or otherwise is of no interest to Benitez's current employer. He might enjoy the novelty of being welcomed with open arms and nostalgic smiles, but must then continue with the matter at hand - winning a match against Liverpool.

Liverpool player to watch - Daniel Sturridge

Sturridge made an instant splash as a Liverpool player, and questions were raised over whether his failings at Chelsea had been down to his former club rather than him. However, he has ceased to create so many ripples of late, and his flying start has eddied into no longer being first choice - the reason he moved north. He has not scored for his club for two months, and never looked like doing so in his last two matches despite some creative bursts against Reading, whose goalkeeper Alex McCarthy saved everything hit at him. Sturridge sometimes plays his best with something to prove, and facing Chelsea certainly offers that.

Chelsea player to watch - Demba Ba

Benitez's rotation policy used to drive many a Liverpool fan to distraction, and he continues the practice with Chelsea. Ba and Fernando Torres are undergoing a job-share process, though Chelsea were at their most dangerous at Wembley when they played together for 25 minutes. Ba's goal against Manchester City came seconds after Torres' arrival from the bench; the Spaniard did not even need to touch the ball. Torres playing at Fulham dictates that Ba starts here, until it becomes time for Torres to face rather less friendly music than that his manager might receive.

Key battle: Steven Gerrard v Juan Mata

Placed in the context of his being a player who 18 months or so ago was struggling badly with injury, Steven Gerrard's feat of playing every Premier League minute for Liverpool is considerable. His role in central midfield has switched many times under Rodgers, but one of his duties will be to check the creativity of Mata, sometimes rotated out by Benitez. Mata, Chelsea's finest player this season, will be roaming similar territory to Gerrard and possess similarly explosive qualities while being a very different player.

Trivia: In Benitez's first season at Liverpool, which also happened to be Jose Mourinho's first at Chelsea, he faced his current club no fewer than five times. Joe Cole got the winner twice in the two league fixtures, and the League Cup was won 3-2 by Chelsea, including a Gerrard own-goal. However, in the Champions League semi-finals Liverpool won 1-0 on aggregate thanks to a Luis Garcia goal that probably never even crossed the line.

Stats: Chelsea's away win at Fulham was their first in five, having lost the last three in a row. Daniel Agger has played the second-most Premier League games for Liverpool, one behind Gerrard on 32.

Odds: Liverpool are a shade over odds-on at 2.10 at bet365 to win, and Chelsea are 3.40, while the draw is 3.40.

Prediction: Rafa to falter in his temporary job and his team to get a draw at best.

To comment, you must be a registered user. Please Sign In or Register