Rafa Benitez is the Champions League king

By Tommy Smith on Feb 20, 08 03:45 PM in Columnists

WHEN it comes to the Champions League there appears no better tactician than Rafa Benitez.

It was a case of what a difference a couple of days make after the debacle of the FA Cup defeat against Barnsley.

And it proved, once and for all, that when the Liverpool manager indulges in his rotation policy - as he did last Saturday - he pays the price.

Last night it was a Reds performance that played with far greater confidence, simply because it had the "backbone" of the team all back together - Reina, Carragher, Gerrard, Mascherano and Torres.

If Benitez wants to make any impact on the rest of the season, and he now has an excellent chance to do so on the European front, those players must be in the side every time.

One difference from three days earlier was that Gerrard started instead of coming on in the 70th minute.

He was a little bit conspicuous in the first half. In the second, he played with a much freer spirit and capped a magnificent second half with that vital second goal near the end.

Every time Gerrard is on the pitch he sets the fires alight. He pushes people to play at a higher tempo.

His encouragement to others is how he performs and without it we are knackered.

It was a night when Benitez got it right and the team responded.

Before Materazzi's dismissal the Reds had taken control, but there was always the question mark over where the goals might come from.

Finnan and Aurelio added weight to the attack, while Kuyt was his normal self, running everywhere for the cause and he came up with a goal which will lift his confidence.

Babel, I'm afraid, still doesn't excite me. The talent is there but it is not sustained and there is no end product and Lucas disappointed.

Inter Milan were content to defend the goalless situation second half, but full credit to the manager, who pushed Crouch and Pennant into the fray, and the big striker, in particular, caused confusion in the penalty area, leading to Kuyt's goal.

It was the old Liverpool in that they kept going right to the end and got their reward.

The game brought back memories for me of the last time we played Inter Milan in a European clash in 1965 at Anfield.

That night was special, too, but we all know what happened in the second leg.

The Reds will have to be aware of the problems they will face over in the San Siro. But I don't think the Italians' style has changed that much.

They will have to attack, and they don't like doing that as much. An away goal will finish it.

Rotation to blame

RAFA BENITEZ'S selection against Barnsley was an insult to the competition - and Liverpool fans.

The FA Cup gave the club the chance to land silverware this season. The selection didn't.

Benitez warned of the dangers of underestimating the opposition and then chooses a side like that.

It only further underlined the view that the squad is nowhere near as good as he thinks it is.

To go out of the cup against that opposition was unforgivable.

His rotation policy has gone too far as far as I am concerned. It was a game we should have won and Benitez knows that. He is to blame.

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