Marseilles misery leaves Benitez baffled

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The Independent Online

Rafael Benitez remembers managers from his days in Spain who, after the kind of defeat his side suffered in midweek, would neither analyse nor dwell on it. "Bad game, forget it," was the philosophy, he recalled yesterday.

Benitez's mind clearly does not work that way. The Liverpool manager had clearly been through 48 hours of introspection about his side's Champions League defeat to Marseilles before musing again yesterday over how they could have so misfired on every part of the pitch. But the Spaniard evidently doesn't want too many minds mulling over what some are already calling a "mini crisis" at Anfield and that is why he rejected the suggestion that he may be missing the influence of his old confidante and assistant-manager at Anfield, Paco Ayesteran, with whom he worked in tandem for a decade. Benitez, who has not replaced Ayesteran, is to be found at work watching match videos as early as 6am some days, likes to be on the pitch at some stage in 90 per cent of training sessions and says there are simply no more hours in the day to do his job.

These are not the actions of the typical English manager just doing his job and they also mean the hands-on role others employ an assistant manager to perform is more than covered, according to Benitez. "I like to talk to my players about every detail and I don't need too many people talking to them because in the end they may have too many things [to think about]," he said, revealing that the "minute" he asks Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and others for, to discuss one point of detail or another, will typically turn into half an hour. "I prefer to [make] my mistakes and not those of others," he concluded.

Benitez believes that his team's fitness – which was Ayesteran's area of responsibility – was the one aspect of the Marseilles game in which they actually came up to scratch. "We were running faster and more intensely than ever," he insisted.

And yet he is no closer to an understanding of why every aspect of the performance was poor. Benitez is not averse to changing team selections if coach Alex Millar and other members of the backroom staff question his ideas – but the coaching staff are understood to have been unanimous, on the basis of his performances in training, about the decision to play 21-year-old Sebastian Leto on the left wing on Wednesday, a move which was hardly vindicated by his performance.

Benitez did not dwell on the unappetising parallels which might be drawn between Marseilles and Tottenham – the visitors to Anfield tomorrow. Spurs, like the French side, arrive with a solitary win and in a state of managerial turmoil.

It is unclear how Benitez might rotate his front line after three league performances in which the side have not looked penetrative. He will certainly be without full-back Fabio Aurelio due to a calf injury but Javier Mascherano – surprisingly rested midweek because of a relentless sequence of games including those in the Copa America – is expected to return along with Alvaro Arbeloa, John Arne Riise, Ryan Babel and probably Dirk Kuyt. Peter Crouch, the player said to be most dispirited by Benitez' rotations, seems destined for the bench at best.

After the international break, a forbidding set of fixtures lies in wait for Liverpool – Everton away, Arsenal at home and Blackburn away, which will test his side in ways which Wigan, Birmingham and Portsmouth have not. Three points tomorrow would provide some badly needed breathing – and thinking – space.

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