The Myth of the ‘Defensive Minded’ Rafael Benitez

Six of the best- that’s how the Newcastle Chronicle described the demolition of Queens Park Rangers in west London on Tuesday evening, a perfect way of marking Rafael Benitez’ first six months in charge of the Magpies. Taking your club, no matter who they are, on a 600 mile round trip to QPR and coming away with an emphatic 6-0 victory is no easy feat- and yet some will still wrongly insist on classifying Benitez as a defensive minded manager that is more concerned about keeping clean sheets than scoring goals.

Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Napoli, Real Madrid and Newcastle- no matter where the Spanish manager has found himself, there’s always been a select group of fans and media alike that regard his style of play as ‘far too defensive’ and despite the results Benitez keeps conjuring up at these clubs, they still keep recycling the same old comments. In reality, the current Newcastle manager tends to give his players as much attacking freedom as they desire, just as long as they are able to remain disciplined and contribute to the defensive side of the game too. The likes of James Rodriques and Isco at Real Madrid really suffered under the guidance of Benitez, with neither of the pair happy with the defensive responsibilities he wanted to place on their shoulders during his spell at the club. Of course, this did eventually lead to the termination of Benitez’ contract at the Bernabeu, but it was fairly evident that the results he brought to club didn’t play a huge part of his demise.

In just the 6 short months he was in charge, the club racked up several impressive performances in the form of demolition jobs against Real Betis (5-0), Espanyol (6-0) and Rayo Vallecano (10-2). Benitez, who was at Madrid for an almost identical amount of time he was at Chelsea, also clocked up several eye-catching performances for the Blues, despite almost everybody being against his appointment. His first game in charge was an emphatic 6-1 victory in the Champions League against FC Nordsjaelland and an 8-0 thrashing of Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa followed just weeks after. Other free-scoring highlights from his time at Chelsea come in the form of a 5-1 thrashing of Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium and a 4-0 thumping of Stoke City at the then, Britannia Stadium. It’s safe to say that not many sides are capable of visiting both Southampton and Stoke City and achieving such convincing results.

There was much of the same at Liverpool- many forget, but Liverpool were ranked as Europe’s number 1 club for a spell of time during Benitez’ stint at the Reds. Liverpool made Anfield a fortress under his tenure, not only in Europe, but the Premier League also, challenging for the League and Champions League on more than one occasion. Liverpool broke records under his guidance- they smashed 8 past Besiktas in 2007, meaning it was Liverpool’s highest recorded European victory in the modern era along with dominant League performances against the likes of West Brom (5-0), Derby County (6-0), Birmingham City (7-0), Newcastle United (5-1) and Hull City (6-1).

High scoring games also came against larger opposition too. In the 2008/09 season, Liverpool were on the quest to capture their first Premier League title since the 80’s, clocking up a record breaking 86 points in the process. Ultimately however, they lost out to Manchester United, who managed an unbelievable 90. With that being said, during this campaign, there was an infamous week that most Reds won’t ever forget. Benitez spearheaded Liverpool to an emphatic 4-0 victory at Anfield against the mighty Real Madrid in the Champions League, before traveling to Old Trafford just days later and thumping Alex Ferguson’s men 4-1.

It all still seems too good to be true for some Newcastle fans- they’ve been craving for a manager to match up to the likes of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson for years, but with Rafael Benitez, they may have just found that. The potential is certainly there- Benitez has a chance while in the Championship to build a side that he deems capable of not only regaining Premier League status, but remaining there and challenging for European places in the near future. We saw glimmers of talent last term, with an astonishing 5-1 victory over 4th place Tottenham and more recently we saw an outstanding 6-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers in west London. The shackles are frequently released by Benitez- so don’t let the media tell you different!


One response to “The Myth of the ‘Defensive Minded’ Rafael Benitez

  1. Rafa will always get my appreciation after Istanbul in 05.


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