Rafa’s rant was full of “disinformation and half-truths” & Chelsea’s “impending decline is already upon us”

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “In more than 20 years nobody has said these things, but maybe a lot of people are thinking the same. I do not regret saying it. I can guarantee you that a lot of people have sent messages of support. Now maybe he is a little bit scared. I have a lot of respect for him and he is a great manager, but he is talking too much about Liverpool. This has to stop. There have been conversations between myself and the players about what I said, which I cannot tell you about. He may respond, but if he talks too quickly I will not understand.” – Rafa Benitez.

Runner-up: “On the training ground this morning, I thought there was a defender behind him [Pavlyuchenko], man-marking, but it turned out to be his interpreter, telling him what we were saying to him. Conversation between him and Jermain should be interesting but I see them as a good pair. I think they’ll work well together. Jermain needs to play with a partner. He’s not a lone striker.” – Harry Redknapp, from an interview with

Today’s overview: Liverpool’s draw at Stoke is viewed through the prism of Rafa’s rant, with commentators still divided on how the Spaniard’s outburst should be interpreted. While ahead of the Manchester-Chelsea meeting today one commentator claims that the Blues’ impending decline is already upon us.

Reaction to Rafa’s rant are still flooding in. For Paul Wilson, “Benitez was 100 per cent correct in just about everything he said. Whether he was right to come out and say it is another matter because he has a team well equipped to do his talking for him.” Jonathan Northcroft also questions the wisdom of Rafa’s outburst, asking “Do a team with a narrow lead at the top of the table while chasing their first title in 19 years need concocted distractions? Only if the answer is ‘yes’ was Benitez’s action logical – and perhaps he conceived his tirade to deflect attention from Steven Gerrard.”

A damning critique of Rafa’s rant is offered by Duncan White, concluding “leaving aside, for a moment, the accusation that Benitez has risen to Ferguson’s bait, it is worth examining the validity of Benitez’s various accusations. Disinformation and half-truth abound.”

Ahead of the big one at Old Trafford, Jonathan Northcroft compares the centre-halves at United and Chelsea. “Chelsea have a fond partnership in Terry and Ricardo Carvalho but, so far, in a season where no forward has dominated the competition, Ferdinand and Vidic have arguably been the most important two players in the Premier League.” Sir Bobby Robson gives his prediction on the big match  saying “whichever strikeforce rediscover their fire – Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney or Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka – will probably win the game for their team. I think Ferguson’s ‘cajoling’ might just edge it in United’s favour.”

Patrick Barclay singles out Michael Carrick for a feature in the Sunday Telegraph (“It is hard to believe… that Carrick will be absent from the adventure in South Africa next year.”) And on United’s activities on the transfer front, the headline grabbing news from John Richardson is that “Sir Alex Ferguson has already lined up a summer replacement for Carlos Tevez – Lyon’s highly rated hitman Karim Benzema.”

According to Ian Felipe Scolari is still battling to be recognised as a top manager in the Premier League as the Brazilian still “confronts the idea that, apart from winning a World Cup with the Brazil national team, his record in heavyweight duels leaves something to be desired.” But Chelsea’s troubles could be far more deep-rooted, Patrick Barclay arguing that “the impending decline of the club as a major force… is already upon us because official sources keep insisting Abramovich means what he says about the necessity to balance the books ‘year-on-year,’ starting this summer.”

The Blues’ finances are also the subject for Alan Nixon, who claims “Chelsea paid agent Pini Zahavi around £900,000 commission following Wayne Bridge’s transfer to Manchester City… The Sunday Mirror’s revelation about Zahavi’s involvement in a straightforward domestic transfer will provoke astonishment in many quarters because of the current economic climate and chief executive Peter Kenyon’s claim that the club must cut costs.”

Attacking Arsenal from both the left and the right, Paul Hayward was critical of the Gunners lack of “zip and fluency of Wenger’s sweeping vision of how the game should be reinvented… [while] Arsenal’s most ingenuous players could do with some of those around them being a bit stronger and meaner, in an entirely legal way.” On the transfer front, Rob Draper writes that “Arsenal are poised to increase their bid for Andrei Arshavin to £12million after Zenit St Petersburg rejected their initial £10m offer.”

Manchester City’s latest forays in the transfer market are noted by Joe Bernstein, commenting that Mark Hughes is being priced out of the UK market with Sparky “now considering Sporting Lisbon holding midfielder Miguel Veloso and has also looked at defenders in Holland.” According to Martin Hardy, “City will move for Carlo Cudicini if Newcastle do not drop their £11million asking price for Shay Given.”

In other news, Portsmouth’s David James talks about living through a difficult January (“All that gossip and speculation is unsettling to a team. It’s like an infection that spreads, causing anxiety. Performances begin to dip. Then when you do lose influential players it doesn’t help.”) while Paul Hayward interviewed Sir Bobby Charlton, discussing why Jose Mourinho is not the man to follow Sir Alex Ferguson, and how his fractured relationship with his brother Jack was mended so publicly live on television last month.

Lastly, Duncan White hope that David Beckham makes his Serie A debut today against Roma so that “the cynicism that has surround his move to Italy might just start to dissipate. This clothes horse is a work horse too.”