The news that Rafael Benitez has agreed a new deal that will keep him at Liverpool until at least 2014 could not have been better timed for the club. Uncertainty has stalked the 18-times English league champions for the past few seasons with rifts between co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, confusion over the proposed new stadium and above all the future of the manager Benitez. His decision to commit his future to Liverpool could have a calming effect on a city desperate for the club to once again dominate English club football. There has been a suffocating sense of disappointment at Liverpool in recent months as another title challenge began to fizzle out after a superb start. The tension at some home games has been almost unbearable. However, a 4-1 victory over leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday to complete a league double over their arch- rivals emphasised that Benitez is tantalisingly close to achieving what the fans most desire. They are still outsiders for the title this season, now that they are four points behind United who also have a game in hand, but with clear heads and certainty on the coaching staff the shackles well be released. Issues in the boardroom are still to be resolved between Hicks and Gillett but at least the football side of the club can now set about the last two crucial months of the season with a clear vision. The 5-0 aggregate victory over Real Madrid last week has set Liverpool up perfectly for another assualt on the Champions League while the win at United could prove to be the spark for a late run at a first top-flight title since 1990. FEW PLAYERS While a few players in Liverpool's squad are still struggling to win over the fans, it is clear that the players Benitez has assembled are the best at Anfield for some time. Benitez's reputation abroad is second to none and after winning two La Liga titles in Spain with Valencia before taking Liverpool to the 2004-05 Champions League crown and reaching the final in 2007, there would have been plenty of big clubs ushering him through their doors had he chosen to leave. The danger would have been that the club's high quality Spanish spine of Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Pepe Reina would have gone with him. Liverpool, for all the frustrating draws this season that will probably cost them this year's title, are improving under Benitez. They are well on course for their best ever points total in the league since he arrived. With Benitez at the helm, the foundations in place and the prospect of a couple more big signings, that upward curve is set to continue and Benitez may yet go on to rival the likes of Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly.
19 March 2009
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