BENITEZ and Liverpool have had to ride many twists and turns in this rollercoaster season so far, but preparing for tonight’s Europa League semi-final with Atletico Madrid has been a whole new experience.
Footballers love routine and the Liverpool players have been so out of their’s this week it is unreal. The three lengthy train journeys to get them from Liverpool to Bordeaux en route to Madrid, plus the exposure to the public that goes with that, is bound to have irked them, and in that respect, they go into tonight’s game with a disadvantage.
Players are used to living a sheltered life, and it’s up to Benitez now to round up his troops and give them some kind of normality to settle them down before kick-off.
If Rafa needed an example of how not to let a lengthy cross-land trip affect you, he need only look at Barcelona, who were well below their best in their Champions League semi-final with Inter Milan on Tuesday. Give credit though to Inter boss Jose Mourinho, who again proved what a genius he is. Not only did he do his homework on the European champions, he also showed that ability he has to create such a positive and confident aura about his side, taking performances to a whole new level.
While Liverpool faced up to their 1,200-mile trek to Spain, Fulham were also on the road, although, thankfully, they had things slightly easier for their Europa League semi in Hamburg. Having performed so heroically thus far, it would be a real shame if an arduous coach journey ruined their cup run.
But Roy Hodgson’s men have surprised everyone in this competition so far this season, so don’t bank on it.