The rumors of Rafa Benítez's move to Juventus have heated-up ahead of Liverpool's Sunday meeting with Chelsea. (Photo: ZumaPress)

Rafa Benitez Edging Toward Liverpool Exit

The man who brought the European Cup back to Anfield looks to be in his last days at Liverpool

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Hodgson Talks Down Liverpool Link, Jol Flattered

One name that has surfaced surrounding the coaching job at Anfield is Roy Hodgson, the current Fulham manager who, two years after a miraculously saving the Cottagers from relegation, has the London club in the Europa League final.

With Fulham scheduled to play Liverpool-slayers Atlético Madrid in the Hamburg final, Hodgson has found his name linked with the job at Anfield, amidst speculation that Rafa Benítez is done.

On Monday, Hodgson tried to put distance between himself and a departure from Craven Cottage:

“I am happy here at Fulham. I have got a contract here at Fulham. I am happy with the job I am doing,” said Hodgson.

“My name is sufficiently strong at the moment to be linked with other jobs and, of course, that is flattering and it is nice to hear.

“But as far as I am concerned it is speculation because I am at Fulham.

“We all prefer praise to criticism and love to hatred. It would be ludicrous to suggest I am not enjoying people saying and writing nice things about me and the team.

“But I am trying to keep a level head and keep things in perspective.”

On person who has not been as coy about a connection with Liverpool is current Ajax coach Martin Jol. The former Tottenham boss, just days after being edged out for the Eredivisie title by Steve McLaren’s FC Twente, called his Liverpool link “flattering:”

“Liverpool are one of the best clubs in Europe and it is flattering to be linked with them,” Jol told the People.

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Did Rafa Just Lose His Final Match At Anfield?

Benítez took a tactical risk in putting out a team that was decidedly incapable of playing from behind: a 4-5-1 with a worker bee (Dirk Kuyt) at the top of the formation. When a gasp-inducing Steven Gerrard era gifted Didier Drogba a goal, Benítez had to do adjust early.

It was a set-up that was his best bet: put his best players out, set-up the team to hold Chelsea and find a goal somewhere – almost typical Benítez. That his tactics were undone by his most valuable player may be the bitter, literary irony that underscores Benítez’s exit: his best efforts undone by the club itself, with the onlookers never able to answer the underlying question – is Rafa the right man, right now?

The commentators leaned on it at the match’s onset, and it because a more prominent theme after Frank Lampard made it 2-0: Was this Rafa’s last match at Anfield?

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Rafa Benitez Edging Toward Liverpool Exit

In the wake of Liverpool's Europa League exit, Rafa Benítez's Anfield future has come under increased focus, with the coach's recent comments and refusal to affirm his status fueling speculation that he will be moving to Juventus at season's end.

That speculation has finally climbed out of the tabloids and into the mainstream, with Benítez's own words - in addition to the great Benítez-Juventus fit - filling the gaps between the story's lines.

As an explanation of Liverpool's Thursday defeat, Benítez pointed to the financial state at Liverpool.  Over the last few years, the manager has complained about the lack of transfer money, but in the wake of the club's difficulties servicing the debt they owe to the Royal Bank of Scotland, this summer's funds are unlikely to be more abundant.

Current Liverpool owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have said they are trying to sell the team.  A new owner could come in with significant investment, solving Benítez's budgetary problems.  However, Benítez knows better than anybody that the current financial situation will not allow the five summer signings he wants, particularly given Liverpool might be without their regular installment of UEFA Champions League money, the Reds looking long-shots to gain a lucrative spot in the tournament.

In light of these obstacles, it is curious that Benítez continues his call for more money - asking for something he knows he is unlikely to get.  What is the point of publicly airing this demand?

Perhaps Benítez is merely providing the press and public with his honest evaluation, but it also seems the Spaniard is paving his way out of Anfield.  Benítez is defining the circumstances by which he can succeed.  He needs investment.  He needs players, and if he doesn't get it, he can claim the situation at Liverpool is untenable, a circumstance under which he can justify leaving.  A supportive fanbase around the Kop, about whom Benítez has always cared, will blame ownership, not the manager, for the exit.

And all of this comes ahead of Sunday's huge match at Anfield against Chelsea.  Should Liverpool lose, their slim hopes of Champions League will be extinguished.  Should they win, they get a season-defining victory but also move rival Manchester United closer to a historic title.

Neither scenario would be a glorious end to the Benítez-era at Anfield.

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