Did Rafa’s mind games put Liverpool in a sticky situation?

“Gerrard wants to play,” said Benítez, “We have to train and talk with him, but he’s had the problem before and was playing. We need people who are 100% fit now, so it would be a calculated risk, but he is a key player for us. On Saturday, we knew we could use him if we needed him from the bench. But coming on as a substitute, the warm-up is different, so it is maybe more difficult doing that. If he’s available, I’d like to play him from the beginning against Chelsea.”

Those were Rafa Benitez’s words prior to last week’s Champions League semi-final match at Stamford Bridge regarding Steven Gerrard’s fitness going into the match. Taking a closer look at his comments, it’s easy to see that whilst Benitez wasn’t putting Gerrard’s name down to start the match, there was a good chance the skipper would feature in the match — or so we all thought.

When Benitez walked out onto the pitch on Monday there was Gerrard, suited up and ready to train with his team-mates. He ran sprints, stretched and trained for most of the session, never once showing signs of re-injuring the adductor muscle that had made him a doubt for the match in the first place. It was business as usual at Liverpool, and for all we knew, Gerrard making the trip to London and training with the squad was a good thing.

Whilst he didn’t play in the match against Chelsea or the match against Blackburn, there seemed to be a general consensus going around that Rafa was saving his captain for what could be the deciding match of year against Arsenal at Anfield. So when the news came out Saturday stating Gerrard would miss the upcoming match against Arsenal and potentially the following match against Hull City, it left many Liverpool supporters scratching their head wondering what was really going on with the fitness of Liverpool’s most influential player.

But word of Gerrard re-aggravating his adductor muscle wasn’t the most alarming news coming from the story, rather it was the quote coming from a Liverpool spokesman that should have floored all of Merseyside.

“In the training session before the Champions League game with Chelsea, Steven Gerrard unfortunately aggravated a small strain he had previously suffered in the adductor muscle,” a Liverpool spokesman said. “A scan has since confirmed our medical team’s initial diagnosis and the player is expected to be out for between seven and 10 days.”

Knowing Benitez, let’s assume for a second that his comments prior to the match regarding Gerrard’s fitness were meant to be mind games. So for Benitez to make it look completely believable, he had to run his skipper out there to make Chelsea really believe that there was a chance he could play. Now, assuming both of these points are true, that would mean Benitez potentially risked Gerrard’s health by asking him to train prior to a match he was never going to feature in.

If we are to believe Liverpool’s comments that they’re legitimate contenders to Manchester United’s crown, then you have to ask yourself if running your skipper out to make good on your mind games comment was really worth the risk? Right now I don’t think the ends justify the means.

Rafa Benitez is a brilliant manager and is considered by many to be a genius when it comes to tactics. But when it comes to mind games and the big picture this is one of those times where Benitez lost the plot.

Sure, making Chelsea believe Gerrard would feature is a great way to get them going, but if you knowingly knew your skipper was still injured, why in the world would you throw him into a training session? If the league was the most important thing this year, then you’d figure Rafa would do everything in his power to make his team as strong as possible for the most critical stretch of the campaign.

Benitez and Liverpool may well go on to win the league this year without Gerrard, but for right now one would have to believe that their title chances have gone from standing on four legs to three without the skipper in the squad against what should be their toughest remaining test of the season.

What do you think? Did Benitez lose the plot by pushing Gerrard out in training prior to the Chelsea match, or was it a calculated risk that made sense?

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  1. Sir Cecil 20 April, 2009
  2. miffed 20 April, 2009
  3. Deano 20 April, 2009
  4. Sid 20 April, 2009