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Oliver Holt: It's Groundhog Day at Anfield but Benitez is still ahead of his time.

Byline: Oliver Holt

THE Liverpool Echo carried a story on its front page yesterday about a family whose clocks stop at the same time every afternoon.

Linda, from Kirkby, noticed the phenomenon soon after she got married. It's been going on for three years now.

They've got the same problem in the souvenir shop at Anfield. It's Groundhog Day in there too.

A radio commentary was blaring out over the loud speaker system in the back of the store when I wandered in. Not just highlights but an entire match.

I listened for a couple of minutes. Gerrard was tackling Kaka. Carragher was rising above Shevchenko.

That particular corner of Anfield is stuck in May 25, 2005, living that European Cup Final victory over AC Milan in Istanbul over and over and over again. On the other side of the ground, Rafa Benitez was fielding questions and we had rewound three weeks to May 3, the magical night when Chelsea came to Anfield for the second leg of the semi-final with the intention of killing the dream.

In front of a fervent crowd, Liverpool pulled off the shock of the season instead and sent the Chelsea players back south in shock. Now John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are back on Merseyside with revenge in their hearts as they wind themselves up for tonight's loaded Group G clash.

So life is a revolving door in Liverpool this week and we're spinning round in it, trapped in the enchanted events of last season and reliving them without pause.

Nothing has quite broken the spell yet. The wonder of Istanbul was such that it has cushioned Liverpool's moderate start to the new Premiership season. But the visit of Chelsea will be the biggest challenge so far to the belief of Benitez that his team is better now than it was when it carried all before it last May.

There are many among the Liverpool supporters who feel that the golden hour of opportunity presented by last season's glorious achievements in Europe has been squandered.

They expected a stream of world class, big-name signings but they got Peter Crouch, Bolo Zenden, Jose Reina and Mohamed Sissoko.

A triumph in Turkey that should have been a catalyst is starting to look like a cul de sac to some of them.

There are others who feel Benitez has already painted his masterpiece at Liverpool and that he will never be able to attain the same heights again.

It may be akin to saying 'apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show' but if Benitez had not won the European Cup last season, he would be a manager under pressure now.

But Benitez can put his medals on the table. His Spanish championship with Valencia. His UEFA Cup triumph. Most of all, his European Cup victory with a moderate side.

It is not his style to work with superstars. He conquered Spain with Valencia not by trying to ape the galactico policy of Real Madrid and Barcelona but by stressing the strength of the group.

His reluctance to sign Michael Owen was evidence of that. His uneasy relationship with Steven Gerrard also points to a discomfort with dealing with big-name players.

But if there was some disillusion at Anfield over the failure to sign Owen, Benitez's trump card is his track record. He has won against the odds before. What he achieved with Valencia and last season in Europe is the template that Liverpool must build on if they are to compete with the might of Chelsea.

They can't match the money so they have to win through guile and managerial ability. That is why they have to keep faith with Benitez.

In this era of extravagance, fans are suspicious of gradual improvements. But Benitez wore a black velvet jacket yesterday and this is a velvet revolution.


A GOOD YOUNG 'UN WILL ALWAYS BEAT A GOOD OLD 'UN..; LIVERPOOL'S Darren Potter gets caught by boss Rafa Benitez, but hits back with a quick one-two to win on points
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 28, 2005
Previous Article:Oliver Holt: WOODY HAS BIG TASK IN HAND.

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