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Why this former Liverpool man can be a success at the Bernabeu

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There was something strangely symmetrical about the manner in which the Spanish league was won this season. It was fitting that the title was decided in both Barcelona and Madrid, though not in the stadiums you might expect.

Real Madrid scored 4 at Espanyol’s Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, Ronaldo scored his seventh hat trick of the season and as Carlo Ancelotti watched on in the late night Catalan heat, no smile dared spread across his face. Meanwhile, Barcelona’s victory at the Vicente Calderón against Atletico Madrid ensured the title would return with them.

Eight days later the Italian had been sacked, less than a year after winning La Décima, Real Madrid’s long awaited 10th Champions League title.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s popular WWII novel Slaughterhouse Five , every death is followed by the phrase “so it goes”, in order to show how each death is equal, inevitable, no matter how it occurs. When Florentino Perez announced the departure of Ancelotti it would have been equally apt if the announcement ended with Vonnegut’s proclamation.

This is life at Madrid, each manager’s tenure acting simply as respite between speculation of who will be appointed his successor, and as the rumour mill began it’s (milling?) there was some surprise that the name it spat out was that of Rafa Benitez.

Rafa Benitez has enjoyed  success wherever he has travelled.

When the rumour about Benitez first began, Real Madrid’s official mouthpiece, Marca, ran the headline, “Only if there is nobody better”, and indeed many bemused spectators have come to the conclusion that Benitez’s imminent appointment highlights the fact that there is indeed nobody better.

For many potential candidates, taking over the Bernabeu hot-seat must seem to have as high a life expectancy as a starring role on Game of Thrones, but there are a few factors to consider before Benitez is doomed a failure prior to even signing his contract.

First of all, Rafa Benitez is really rather good in La Liga. Perhaps unfairly labeled a cup manager, let us not forget that before Simeone’s Atletico team of 2013/14, Benitez’s Valencia side were the last to break up the Madrid-Barca dominance of La Liga, winning two titles in three years between 2001-2004.

It has now been three years since Madrid last won the league title under Jose Mourinho, an eternity to fans as demanding as the Madridistas. If Benitez can recapture this previous league form with a much better squad than he had at the Mestalla then it surely won’t be too long before the league trophy returns to the white half of Madrid.

However let’s not forget that his cup record isn’t half bad. Along with his league exploits, Benitez added the UEFA Cup to Valencia’s trophy room in 2004. His next European trophy was even more impressive, taking a less than stellar Liverpool side to their 5th Champions League trophy in his first season in England, masterminding one of the most extraordinary comebacks in history against AC Milan. This was followed with domestic success in the FA Cup in 2006.

In his brief stint at Chelsea, Benitez won another European trophy in the form of the Europa League, and in his first season at Napoli managed to win the Copa Italia. Make no mistake, cup pedigree is useful, if not vital at a club like Real Madrid. Not only do they expect European honours every season, but this is a club for which every game is like a knockout game, entire seasons and the stability of a manager’s employment can oscillate wildly from game to game.

That Benitez is a manager comfortable with pressure is obvious with his record in knockout tournaments, and it is exactly those kinds of experiences the Spaniard will have call upon if he hopes to be a success at Madrid.

Liverpool supporters will not forget the Spaniard’s impact in a hurry.

It also must be noted that the pressure and the lifestyle associated with Madrid is nothing new for Benitez. In his short injury plagued days as a youth footballer, it was through Real Madrid’s youth ranks that he rose. When injuries forced him to prematurely retire, he took over Madrid’s Castilla side, winning an u-19 league and two u-19 Spanish cups.

Crucially his formative years as a coach came in Madrid, the ambitions, philosophy and ethos of the club from Spain’s capital are fully understood by Benitez. Many managers enter through the Bernabeu’s revolving doors, but not many know exactly what to expect when they arrive, and while it may be difficult to second guess any decision made by the volatile board, few managers would be as prepared as Benitez himself.

When Benitez has been criticised it has usually been for his poor league performances. One can point out his poor final season at Liverpool and his disaster in his only stint at Inter. However you must temper both these failures with the financial situation at both clubs at the time.

At Liverpool, Hicks and Gillett’s period of ownership was categorised by a noticeable dearth in funds made available for transfers, even after Liverpool finished runner up to Manchester United in the Premier League title race. At Inter, owner Massimo Morrati rejected Benitez’s claim that key additions were needed to improve an ageing squad, despite the treble success a year earlier.

That Liverpool did not win the league under Benitez is unfortunate, but it is not unique. 25 years and 8 managers have passed since that was last achieved. As for Inter, one only has to look at their struggles in the five years that have passed since Mourinho won the treble to see the size of the task Benitez faced.

Both these situations show a lack of understanding from owners that any period of success can easily lapse into stagnation, without an influx and an exodus of players year on year, players get too comfortable, lack hunger. Manchester City this year serve as an example of the danger of a lack of quality imports following a year of success.

This is unlikely to be a problem at Real Madrid where players are kept on their toes as much as the staff, there has been much speculation over the fate of Gareth Bale and the possible incoming of David De Gea among others, one thing is certain, this is a club that never stands still.

Rafa Benitez and Real Madrid could be just the right match at just the right time. Real Madrid will be determined to reaffirm their place as Spain’s premier club ,while Benitez, plagued by a less than complimentary service related nickname, will be determined to prove that he deserves a seat at Europe’s top table.

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Liverpool

Liverpool target Besiktas’ Anderson Talisca would add superb attacking depth

The Brazilian has recorded 28 goal contributions in Turkey this season.

Max Cohen

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Anderson Talisca
Photo: Getty Images

After Besiktas’ 5-1 home win over Sivasspor on Saturday, manager Senol Gunes strongly hinted that star attacker Anderson Talisca would be joining Liverpool this summer.

The possible signing of the Brazilian midfielder would be a superb acquisition for Liverpool, adding depth and quality to the club’s star-studded attack.

According to FourFourTwo, the Besiktas manager confirmed Talisca would be leaving the Turkish club for the Premier League after two years on loan from Benfica.

And Gunes dropped a massive hint that put Liverpool as the possible frontrunners in attaining his signature ahead of Manchester United.

“He might be rivals with Cenk Tosun,” Gunes replied when asked about Talisca’s English destination.

Of course, former Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun plays for Everton– leading many to jump to the conclusion that Talisca is headed to Anfield instead of Old Trafford.

(Photo by Ozan Kose/Getty Images)

The signing would represent a strong statement of intent from the Reds, as Talisca has enjoyed a stunning two seasons at Besiktas and is a burgeoning attacking talent.

In 47 appearances this season, the 24-year-old was involved in an impressive 28 goals, scoring 20 and assisting eight.

And the Brazilian’s past form shows this fantastic season is not a one-off. In 2016/17, Talisca bagged 17 goals and six assists, despite only featuring 33 times in all competitions.

While some might argue that the Turkish Super Lig has a poorer defensive standard than the Premier League, Talisca has proven his worth in European competition as well. In his time at Besiktas, he has notched five Champions League goals, as well as two goals and four assists in the Europa League.

The Brazilian youth international would add impressive offensive depth for Liverpool, as the Reds look to seriously challenge for the Premier League next season.

The purchase of the prolific attacking midfielder would be an ideal first step in assembling a squad that could bring Anfield its first league trophy in over two decades.

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Champions League

Gareth Bale’s red-hot Real Madrid form should scare Liverpool

The Welshman has scored 11 goals in his last 15 appearances.

Max Cohen

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Gareth Bale
Photo: Getty Images

In Real Madrid’s final league match of this season on Saturday, Gareth Bale swept home a lovely right-footed finish to open the scoring against Villarreal.

That goal marked the Welshman’s 11th goal in his last 15 appearances for club and country; a remarkably prolific run of form that should scare Liverpool ahead of next weekend’s Champions League final.

Injury problems have marred much of Bale’s time at the Bernabeu, and he suffered a lengthy two-month absence from the first team this fall.

Yet, after returning from his injury lay-off, the former world-record signing has hit full form in the last two months.

In that time period, the winger has scored a hat-trick for Wales, braces against Las Palmas and Celta Vigo, and a crucial goal versus Barcelona.

This spring resurgence presents a worrying prospect for Liverpool’s defence, who already will have their hands full trying to keep Cristiano Ronaldo in check in Kiev.

(Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Add in Gareth Bale hitting full form, and suddenly the task at hand for Jurgen Klopp’s men appears far more difficult.

The 28-year-old also has quite the decorated history for los Blancos in cup finals. In his debut season for Real, Bale scored sensational winning goals in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals.

The following season in the European Cup final, the Welshman assisted Real Madrid’s sole goal and scored his penalty in the ensuing shoot-out; his cup final record is simply superb.

Combined with Bale’s recent tremendous goalscoring form, the prospect of facing up against the powerful winger might strike fear in the Liverpool backline.

But the Reds have proven adept in stifling some of the best attacks in Europe this season.

Liverpool famously restricted high-scoring Manchester City to just one goal over 180 minutes in the quarterfinals and the Reds will have to conjure up that heroic rearguard performance in order to stop the on-form Gareth Bale next weekend.

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Liverpool

Liverpool should turn to Steven Gerrard and Rangers to solve their Rhian Brewster problem

Liverpool are struggling to keep the teenager, but a move to Ibrox would see him work with new Rangers boss and Kop legend in Glasgow.

Mathew Coull

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Liverpool are facing something of a battle to keep hold of their star young striker Rhian Brewster. The young England talent, who was sensational for England’s under-17s in their World Cup triumph last summer, has been heavily linked with a move to German side Borussia Monchengladbach. In fact, the approach from the Bundesliga outfit has been anything but amicable.

Liverpool know they have a top talent in their hands in the form of Brewster, but he obviously fears for his first-team opportunities at Anfield.

What Liverpool need to do is present the young striker with a clear vision for his future and it should involve club legend, Steven Gerrard.

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The former Liverpool captain has recently taken his first steps into management with Scottish giants Rangers. Now he will be looking to improve his options at Ibrox, as they look to catch Old Firm rivals Celtic.

Brewster has in fact been linked with a move to Gerrard’s Glasgow rivals, but it would be a better move for the teenager to head to Ibrox.

Under the guidance of former Liverpool under-18 boss Gerrard the striker would be more likely to play first-team football.

The deal would offer the talented striker what he wants, regular first-team football. Rangers would be happy with any deal. His arrival would be welcomed and would add some fresh firepower to the attacking ranks at Rangers.

(during the International Friendly match between Sydney FC and Liverpool FC at ANZ Stadium on May 24, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.

Meanwhile, Liverpool will know he is in the trusted hands of a club legend who will do all he can to ensure Brewster continues to mature, all whilst hopefully improving Rangers’ frontline.

Presenting a full plan for his development would give Brewster the desire he needs to remain at Liverpool. Heading to Ibrox would then be a perfect opportunity for him to start finding the net and adapting to the men’s game.

A Rangers loan switch makes perfect sense for all parties.

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