Can Rafa Benitez End Liverpool’s Premier League Title Hopes?
Liverpool’s hopes of a stunning Champions League and Premier League double were dealt a hammer blow on Wednesday after Jürgen Klopp’s men sank to a 3-0 defeat to Barcelona in the first-leg of their semi-final.
However, the Reds do have the chance to swat that result aside and regain the lead in the title race this weekend when they come up against a familiar face in former boss Rafa Benitez, manager of Newcastle.
But any Liverpool fans looking for a favour from the man that led the club to Champions League glory shouldn’t count their chickens just yet.
"We will do what we have done the whole season and that’s try to win the game," said Benitez in the build-up to the game, as quoted in the Manchester Evening News.
"We play at home in front of our own fans and will try to do our best.
"It’s my responsibility to look after Newcastle and if I was on the other side, I would be expecting the opposition to do their best and the manager to try his best."
Rafa Benitez vs Liverpool
Benitez Wins: Two
Liverpool Wins: Two
Benitez has come up against Liverpool seven times in his managerial career, spread out over spells at Valencia, Chelsea, and Newcastle, dating back to 2002.
The first two clashes came prior to his arrival at Anfield during a hugely successful tenure at Valencia, who beat the Reds home-and-away in the group stages of the Champions League (2-0 and 0-1).
The other five duels have come since he departed Merseyside. There was a 2-2 draw at Anfield when he was Chelsea’s interim manager, followed by consecutive score draws at Newcastle, however in the last two meetings his side have lost to nil, including a 4-0 Boxing Day hammering at his former stomping ground.
Newcastle counting on home comforts
13th-placed Newcastle can’t match last season’s top-10 finish, but the Toon can scoop 11th should they win their remaining two games and other results go in their favour, although four points could just be enough - their final clash is away to Fulham.
The Magpies head into Saturday’s encounter having secured seven points from their last three games. They’ve been on fire at St James’ Park, winning six out of seven since mid-January, which includes a shock come-from-behind 2-1 triumph over Man City.
Should Benitez conjure up a win against his former side, he will effectively end their title hopes, as City would then just need a victory over Leicester to retain the trophy.
What about a favour from another ex-gaffer?
Five years ago Liverpool lost out to Man City by just two points. It was agonising for both the club and their then-manager Brendan Rodgers, who can actually do his old side a favour on Monday when he takes current side Leicester to the Etihad.
The Foxes have vastly improved since Rodgers replaced Claude Puel in March. He’s recorded 15 points from a possible 24, and hammered Arsenal 3-0 in their last game. The Midlands club have of course actually beaten City already this season, a 2-1 victory, at the King Power on Boxing Day and should they complete the double over the Citizens expect scenes of jubilation in the red-half of Merseyside.