John Gibbons: Liverpool won’t roll out the welcome mat for Rafa this time

At least on the pitch that is and The Anfield Wrap writer has some words of praise for the flying wing-backs of The Reds…


Liverpool finished February unbeaten thanks to a 4-1 victory that is now deemed rather routine, and enter March more confident than The Fonz entering Arnold’s in Happy Days. Eh?

Next up for The Reds is Newcastle and the Anfield return of a former legend. He shined bright, promised so much and had a famous altercation with Alex Ferguson.

But, despite some famous nights, ultimately it didn’t work out, so we had to say our goodbyes and move on, no matter how hard it was.

But Jonjo Shelvey isn’t the only one coming back this weekend.

Manager Rafa Benitez had some good times in L4 too and it will be nice to see him, although hopefully not too nice.

Last time he brought Newcastle United, we sang his name so much we forgot to win and they still went down – typical.

To be fair, The Reds were concentrating on a Europa League campaign that would end in a final defeat at that point, whereas this time league position and three points is very much top of the agenda.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson actually came out in the week and said the team haven’t completely given up hope of finishing top, which was nice to hear, if not a touch deluded. Although Emre Can coming out a couple of days later and saying they actually have given up sort of ruined it a bit.

We can all agree that the glory of second place is up for grabs though, with Chelsea going to Manchester City on Sunday and the other lot from Manchester not playing until Monday night, Liverpool have a real chance to shoot ahead and cement their place on Saturday night. As long as the snow packs in and The Reds do the business.

However, The Geordies are unbeaten in February themselves – including a win against Manchester United – and Benitez certainly won’t be looking to do us any favours.

In fact, the story this week from Fernando Torres in Marca that Benitez once signed a match ball the player had received for scoring a hat-trick with “today you lost the ball eight times”, shows he’s just about the least sentimental man in football.

He’d sell his grandmother for a point at Anfield this weekend.

Newcastle will be well organised and won’t be throwing too many men forward on Saturday. We will have to hope that Jonjo Shelvey is less “kick it in from 25 yards Jonjo” and more “pass it to their striker Jonjo” and that The Reds are as ruthless as they have been since the afternoon they became the only team in the whole wide world who actually managed to get beat by West Brom.

The truth is Liverpool should have too much firepower, not just amongst the front three who are breaking all the records and getting all the attention, but throughout the team.

Our recent attacking displays have been characterised, not just by the excellence of Firmino, Salah and Mane, but the determination and will of those playing behind them to join in the fun.

No one has embodied this more recently than Andy Robertson, who was probably never allowed to cross the halfway line for Hull, and is very much making up for it now.

He got another assist against West Ham to back up a great performance in Porto, where he looked like he’d played dozens of Champions League games, not making his first.

Both Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the other side might be raw, but they are certainly additional weapons in Liverpool’s formidable attacking armour, and for those of us who remember watching Aly Cissokho play full back, it is very welcome indeed.

So bring your best, Rafa. Your horrible, away at Juventus in ’05, seven at the back with two in front, best. We’ll sing to you when we’re 4-0 up this time.

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