Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rafaball Strikes Again

Rafael Benitez's six seasons at Anfield have been marked by one consistent trend: when his team's fortunes appear bleakest, the Reds have the ability to summon their finest efforts. On Sunday the concept of "Rafaball" was once more on display.

The last time LFC lost four straight, Margaret Thatcher was enjoying high tea with Ronald Reagan. With captain Steven Gerrard in the stands and star striker Fernando Torres returning from injury, there was reason for apprehension as the three-time defending league champions arrived in Liverpool. But as if to borrow a line from the team's anthem, Rafa believes that at the end of the storm is a golden sky. And again that golden sky came in the form of an inspired Liverpool performance and a deserved 2-0 win that re-ignites their title chase.

We've seen this act before under Benitez. The signature Rafaball victory came in his first season in charge. Down 3-0 at halftime in the Champions League Final against AC Milan, Liverpool rallied to tie the match and won in a shootout. And Liverpool would never have reached that Final without a furious three-goal outburst in their final group stage match against Olympiakos that secured passage to the knockout round.

Since 2005 their have been many more Rafaball moments. From 2-0 down against West Ham, the Reds tied the 2006 FA Cup Final on the brink of stoppage time before winning in a shootout. There was a 2-1 win at Barcelona in the knockout stages of the 2007 Champions League, won on goals by Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise after the former had attacked the latter with a golf club in the team hotel. Passage to the 2008 Champions League group stages seemed unlikely after an 0-1-2 start, but the Reds won their next three by a combined total of 16-1 and advanced to the semis.

Manchester United were familiar with Sunday's performance. Last September LFC won at home 2-1 without the services of Gerrard or Torres. In March, just as the team's obituary was being penned, the Reds shocked the Old Trafford faithful with a 4-1 victory. In both matches, ManU scored first before the Reds rallied.

The frustrating flip side to Rafaball is that legendary wins are often followed by flat performances. Every Liverpool fan should be on guard heading into Saturday's fixture at Fulham. But if the Reds can continue to play Rafaball, this campaign will have plenty more pleasant surprises.


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