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I Think You Lost Me There

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"I don't have to win a trophy."

Maybe a bit sensationalist to leave that excerpt as the lead-in, but the overall thrust of an article from the Times(among other sources) is that Rafa Benitez feels that progress alone is an acceptable indicator of success. Since there's plenty of ammo here, I figured it's best digested quote-by-quote:

"I don't agree with people when they say you have to win trophies. You have to be close and create a group of players that can fight for trophies."

I'm not sure which people Rafa is referring to, but these people must not be interested in professional sports. Certainly the players have to have the ability to challenge for trophies, but having players that get you close is not cutting it.

"We got 86 points in the Premier League last year and some people say it wasn't a good season. But to finish second and close the gap between the top team and us to four points was a massive achievement. "

The joy of last season's second-place finish was...non-existent. You compete to win trophies, not to watch others celebrate with them. I think it was a season that was largely positive, but for Liverpool the expectation is much more than runners-up.

"Trophies mean a lot to everyone but to see the team progress means you can guarantee you will be there in the future and you can fight for trophies."

The progression of a team from season to season does not necessarily guarantee future success. Teams progress backwards at times, forwards at others. To imply that the successful progression of a team over a five-year period is somewhat linear seems misguided at best. In fact, some would say that another trophyless, second-place finish after winning a continental trophy four years previously is not much of a progression. But trophies don't matter that much, eh?

"People can say I have been here for five years but you can see the difference. Compare the value of the club before and the value of the club now. Compare the value of the squad before and the value of the squad now, you can see the progression."

Someone better than I will probably break this down to see if it's accurate, but offhand I'd say the value of this squad, particularly the one that was on the field for the last twenty minutes at Craven Cottage on Saturday, isn't breaking many banks. There's definitely players with high value on the squad (Gerrard, Torres, Masch), but there's room for argument. Mssrs. Hicks, Gillett, your thoughts?

"We needed to do something to protect the player. We were more or less in control of the game. If we had left him on the pitch maybe we would have lost the player for a month. It was a difficult decision but we decided to start with him because he can do a proper warm-up. But we decided to take him out at 60 minutes. The last time he played 80 minutes it took him four days to be fit."

This is obviously one of the biggest bones of contention from Saturday-the decision to take Fernando Torres off with 30 minutes left to play. Being "more or less in control" at that time was largely due to the presence of Torres, who was the only player on the pitch that really looked threatening. I can completely understand setting a limit for a player, but I'm more of the mind that the flow of the game should make that limit fluid. Letting emotion completely influence the decision to keep a player on would have been foolish, but that's never a worry with Rafa, one of the more collected-seeming managers around. You can't see Rafa setting the 60-minute limit for Torres and then changing his mind, can you?

Now Torres could have limped off injured at the 70-minute mark and Benitez would look like a genius, but taking off Benayoun minutes later did nothing but damn Rafa's decision-making further. Both players looked less than impressed to be subbed off, and the fallout since then has mirrored their responses. Ronnie Whelan, one of the more outspoken former Liverpool players, has gone so far as to say that Rafa has given up on the league. Around the 80-minute mark on Saturday, there could be little argument that it's fiction.

The club is up against it, and they'll need every bit of resolve to get a result against Lyon on Wednesday.

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