The Valencia side which won Spain's La Liga title for Rafael Benitez in 2004 were known as "The Machine", scoring more goals than anyone and conceding fewer when they took the title. Now, with his side three points clear and two major challengers beaten, Benitez is able to aspire seriously to something similar at Liverpool.
There were the usual cautionary caveats as Benitez prepared for the arrival tonight of Portsmouth and their new manager, Tony Adams. Win two or three more games – Spurs, West Bromwich and Bolton are after Pompey – and "everyone will talk about us being contenders and then we will have more pressure from outside", Benitez said. "Then you need to manage the pressure."
Benitez would rather Liverpool won their first title since 1990 the way that his Valencia side of 2001-2 did – by stealth, 31 years after their previous crown. That team, like this Liverpool one, had a paucity of players who have actually experienced taking the title. But Liverpool are up on the perch already and his second title-winning model at the Mestalla may be the one he needs to emulate. "That team had the balance," Benitez said. "We were attacking. We lost the last game against Albacete 0-1 when we were champions and by just scoring one goal we would have scored more goals than Real Madrid, who scored something like 71 goals."
Taking the title will, he said, require a season in which Liverpool are near "perfect" and go on long winning runs.
The Liverpool manager reflected, from the heart, on the narrow margins between success and failure in the British game as he discussed the departure of his compatriot Juande Ramos from Tottenham.
"The people in Spain now realise how difficult the Premier League is. Maybe [after] watching Juande they are saying 'it is not as easy as we were thinking'. When you go to another country, to talk in another language, small details and how to explain things is not easy."
Robbie Keane played in the win at Chelsea on Sunday only after a pain-killing injection for his groin injury and may join Fernando Torres on the sidelines. That could mean a striking role alongside Dirk Kuyt for Ryan Babel, who is yet to prove himself anything but a prolific substitute.Reuse content