When he sat in the team hotel the morning after Liverpool had lost the Champions' League final to Milan last May, Rafa Benitez's outburst about the club's failure to act quickly enough in the transfer market may have been calculated but was also influenced by the disappointment of the night before. The American owners he challenged on that occasion were sympathetic and soon came up with the best part of £50m for players like Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun, but when the manager recently demanded more, firstly to secure the permanent transfer of Javier Mascherano, they were less forthcoming.
Hence the apparent breakdown in the relationship between the parties going into yesterday's 3-0 win at Newcastle and before Wednesday's crucial Champions' League fixture with Porto. Benitez is a football man, Tom Hicks and George Gillett are businessmen and as at most clubs, the difference can be a source of tension. This week's match at Anfield is one that should bring the two aspects of running a club together, so it was hardly the time to be falling out. If Liverpool, apparently recovering after having taken one point from their opening three group matches, fail to beat the Portuguese side, they will face elimination from the competition and possibly not even qualify as third-placed team for the Uefa Cup.
In those circumstances, and after the rebuke he earned from Hicks on Friday – "quit talking about new players and coach the players we have" – Benitez can hardly expect to be handed £17m for Mascherano, a player already on the books. He would probably have to sell Peter Crouch as well as Scott Carson before any consideration is given to further outgoings by owners committed to more than £20m a year in interest payments as well as some £400m for a new stadium.
When he could finally be persuaded to talk about Porto rather than repeating his "focused on training and coaching" mantra, Benitez said: "The idea is just to win. We don't need to score a lot of goals, just win. We know if we can beat Porto we have a chance of advancing. It is clear we must win and be ready for Marseille. The Porto strikers have power."
So do club owners. Benitez needs to be wary of tempting them to use it against him, however unpopular that would be.
This week's matches
Manchester Utd v Sporting Lisbon
If Wayne Rooney was bored playing in the 4-0 victory over Dynamo Kiev (0pts), he may not find Sporting (4pts) any more interesting. They need to catch Roma (7pts) in order to qualify with United (12pts).
Seville v Arsenal
An opening 3-0 win over what was then Juande Ramos' Seville (9pts) confirmed Arsenal (10pts) as firm favourites and they duly qualified. But they will not want to lose here and risk finishing as runners-up.
Stuttgart v Rangers
Stuttgart have lost all four Champions' League games so far and cannot even qualify for the Uefa Cup. Rangers (7pts) have to keep their noses in front of Lyon (6pts).
Celtic v Shakhtar Donetsk
Level on 6pts with Shakhtar, Celtic need a victory here. It would help them for Milan (9pts) to put Benfica (3pts) out of contention before Celtic go to the San Siro.
Liverpool v Porto
The first part of the salvage mission required by Liverpool (4pts) was achieved in spectacular eight-goal fashion against Besiktas (3pts). Porto (8pts) are beatable – then to Marseille (7pts) for the crunch.
Rosenborg v Chelsea
Group B outsiders Rosenborg (7pts) hastened the departure of Jose Mourinho with a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. With Schalke (4pts) unlikely to win in Valencia (3pts), a draw here will suit Chelsea (8pts).Reuse content