It is always a special occasion when Rafa Benítez faces Liverpool as opposition manager. In six seasons at Liverpool, he memorably won the Champions League in 2005 and FA Cup a year later. Two legendary finals represented the peak of his achievements as Liverpool manager despite an improved Liverpool side falling short of another Champions League triumph in 2007 and a Premier League title in 2009. On Sunday, Rafa Benítez faces his old club once again with Newcastle.
Like Jürgen Klopp, Rafa gets the club; moreover, he understands the people and the city. Rafa’s admiration of Liverpool has never changed in the seven years since he was sacked, and Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler reflected on the Newcastle manager’s role in bringing him back to his boyhood club in January 2006—something that further endeared Rafa to the supporters.
"I’ll always be grateful to Rafa for giving me the chance to come back home," Fowler told Liverpool’s official website ahead of Rafa’s reunion with Merseyside’s finest.
"I wasn’t even playing for City. At the time, Liverpool were maybe struggling a little bit for goals. Rafa picked up the phone and asked me if I wanted to come back to Liverpool – it was probably the best phone call I’ve ever had in my life. I have fond memories of Rafa, a great manager."
Fowler made it very clear that his respect for his former manager won’t extend to hoping for anything else but a comfortable win for Liverpool on Sunday. Only three teams have conceded fewer goals than Newcastle so far in this admittedly young season, but this isn’t a surprise given Rafa’s fondness for balance and organisation in his teams.
“I want him to get beat this weekend,” Fowler said. “I’m a Liverpool fan. I don’t want it to be a 4-3 game – I want Liverpool to win really comfortably. Even when he was Liverpool manager and you think of the players he had at his disposal, technically, tactically and going forward I think we were as good as anyone.
"But his [approach] was to not let the other team create chances, stop them from scoring and get blocks, and counter-attack and get a 1-0 win. He was like that at Liverpool and he’ll be exactly the same.
"He’ll want to do well, he’ll want to keep a clean sheet and he’ll try to get us on the counter."