After three weeks of beach balls, booing and basic errors, the world of Rafa Benitez got a whole lot less gloomy on Sunday.
Benitez's Liverpool ended its drastic four-game slump with a 2-0 victory over Manchester United, yet the pain relief may only be temporary. Signature victories such as Sunday's will not rescue Liverpool's season or change the fact that this is still a club mired in chaos and in genuine danger of slipping out of English soccer's elite circle.
It would be no surprise if the Anfield club missed out on the top-four finish it needs to book a spot in next season's Champions League, and in these times of financial uncertainty and likely ownership change at the club, not having the monetary reward that comes with Champions League qualification and success could be catastrophic.
More than 1000 fans protested against American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett on Sunday over the high level of debt they have saddled the club with. Also, friction between Benitez and the ownership group has been a common theme for more than a year, with Benitez claiming he has not been given sufficient support in the transfer market. The squad, which relies far too much on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, is not as deep as might be expected from a club of such stature.
Despite the United victory, the effects are now being felt on the field. And with the way things are looking, United, Chelsea and Arsenal are clearly the classiest teams in the English Premier League and should have the top three positions wrapped up. The fourth spot could be Liverpool's, but it is not going to be easy. Manchester City has the depth and spending power to launch a sustained challenge, while Tottenham and Aston Villa both have eyes on that prize, too.
The doom and gloom was lifted from Liverpool on Sunday – an impressive win over a hated rival will do that for you – but don't be surprised if they're back soon, with worse to follow.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get him an Advil
USA head coach Bob Bradley faces a nervous wait as the World Cup approaches, with crucial defender Oguchi Onyewu facing a race against time to be ready for South Africa. Onyewu underwent successful surgery last week but will be out for six months. Can he possibly be match-fit in time for the tournament in June?
2. Get him a beer
Alessandro Nesta rode to the rescue as AC Milan's spirited yet unconvincing revival continued. The central defender scored twice in the final 10 minutes as the Rossoneri came from a goal down to win 2-1 at Chievo and preserve head coach Leonardo's job for a bit longer.
3. Get him some earplugs
Louis Van Gaal was relieved to see his Bayern Munich side clinch victory over Eintracht Frankfurt with a late winner, but the pressure is still mounting on the Dutch coach. Bayern fans and club management have been unimpressed by the team's inconsistent form and Van Gaal needs to put together a run of results to improve his job security.
4. Keep an eye on …
David Beckham. The England midfielder has turned around his reputation since returning to the United States in July and being confronted by angry fans. Beckham's work rate and commitment have been exemplary this season in Major League Soccer and he was given a standing ovation by Los Angeles Galaxy fans when substituted towards the end of the side's final regular-season game. Beckham has the big-game mentality to be a decisive factor in the upcoming playoffs.
5. Catch a flight to …
London. A mouthwatering North London derby is in store on Saturday, with third-place Arsenal taking on local rival Tottenham, which sits in fourth. Both sides suffered disappointing results last weekend but will be desperate to secure bragging rights here.
6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week
5 – The number of free drinks Frank Lampard had to buy for Joe Cole after denying his friend and returning Chelsea teammate the chance to take a penalty against Blackburn Rovers. Lampard slotted home the spot-kick to seal a 5-0 win as Cole played his first full game since getting injured in January.
7. Fond farewell
Gareth Southgate found himself in the unusual position of being sacked as Middlesbrough boss just hours after leading the team to a convincing win over Derby County and putting them within a point of the lead in the English Championship. New boss Gordon Strachan had already been lined up two weeks earlier. Southgate is one of English soccer's good guys and deserved better than this shoddy treatment.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
The MLS playoffs. The league is enjoying a big year and MLS officials are hoping for big things from the postseason with the resurgent L.A. Galaxy on top of the Western Conference and the heavily-supported Seattle Sounders in contention for the championship in their inaugural campaign.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Freddie Ljungberg. Rumors are strengthening that Ljungberg could leave the Sounders at the end of the season. The former Arsenal standout will either return to Europe or pursue business opportunities.
10. Get excited about …
Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Barcelona might have lost in Europe last week, but the big Swede is in sensational form for his new club. Ibrahimovic struck two more goals on Sunday as Barca demolished Real Zaragoza, and there is no more lethal player in front of goal right now.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Diana Chaves, girlfriend of Benfica midfielder Cesar Peixoto.
- Rafa Benitez
- Manchester United