Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No One Wants To Play Liverpool: A Look Ahead to Friday's Champions League Draw

After the manner in which they destroyed first Real Madrid and then current European Champions Manchester United, and with their phenomenal record in the competition under their tactically astute manager, Liverpool have become the team everyone wants to avoid in Friday's draw for the Quarter Finals of the Champions League.

Despite Barcelona and Manchester United being quoted as the current favorites at the bookmakers both squads will be keen to avoid the Anfield side, until the final at least...

Under Rafael Benitez the Reds pedigree in Europe over the past five seasons has been highly impressive. Twice finalists, the 2005 winners were beaten finalists in 2007 and were beaten semi finalists in 2008 after an extra time ordeal against Chelsea.

Their Spanish manager, an avid Stratego fan since his childhood, has always had a deep fascination for the tactical side of games. He is famed for spending hours pouring over dvd's of opposition teams with a notebook in hand, looking for the slightest crack that will give his team an advantage.

And as far as European competition is concerned his methods have certainly brought rewards to the world famous club.

Against Real Madrid in the last round we saw two sides to Liverpool's arsenal. In the first leg they strangled the life out of a Real Madrid team in the Bernabeau and after they found themselves repeatedly banging their heads off an impenetrable wall Rafael Benitez's team began to assert their game on Los Blancos.

Eventually Yossi Benayoun scored a late winner and the stage was set for the now famous Anfield romp.

What Benitez's approach to the first Madrid game, and indeed his approach to the majority of the clubs European opponents is that the manager is very patient. He will set out his gameplan and wait until an opportunity announces itself.

Some, like myself have found this "not get beaten" approach negative at times but none can question it's effectiveness.

The return leg was anything but negative. Liverpool were incredible. They simply tore Real Madrid apart. The once great team had not one player in their illustrious side who could answer the Anfield sides onslaught.

Their performance was almost a perfect one. Liverpool's work rate which has always been incredible under Benitez moved up a couple of levels. Their forward play was outstanding, every attack penetrated the Madrid rearguard and caused mass confusion, and the main architects, Gerrard and Torres were simply immense.

Liverpool fans have only caught glimpses of Rafa allowing the blinkers to be removed from his team in recent seasons. This season their brilliant performances can almost be counted on one hand, Everton, Chelsea, United, Madrid, Newcastle.

Which begs the question, if Liverpool can be so good why doesn't the manager allow his team to play that way every week?

I don't have the answer for that question, but what I do know is that when Liverpool are in this kind of form, they are simply unstoppable.

Just ask Manchester United about their 4-1 defeat to their fiercest rivals last week.

Every team have their weaknesses.

United are weak through central midfield, Barcelona are poor at the back, Chelsea lack width, Arsenal are average across the back and in midfield, Munich lack guile, Villareal are quite rigid using a similar approach to every game and Porto are just not good enough.

The point is, that any of the favourites will be able to work on their tactics and would be confident of beating pretty much any of the other seven. The one team who they know are always tough to beat no matter what approach they take is Liverpool and for that reason alone, most will be anxious to avoid the Reds.

As we head towards Friday's draw for the Champions League Quarter Finals, the momentum of two massive performances is driving Liverpool on, and no one will want to face them, or their manager.

Current Betting (Before the Draw)

Barcelona 5/2 (f)

Manchester United 13/5

Chelsea 9/2

Liverpool 6/1

Arsenal 15/2

Bayern Munich 10/1

Villareal 28/1

Porto 33/1

twitter / WillieGannon