Liverpool have the class to “walk the game” when they tackle Everton in Wednesday’s derby, and former Reds defender Stephen Warnock believes that would pile pressure on Rafael Benitez.
A series of worrying injuries have hampered Everton in recent weeks, and they will be without Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Yerry Mina and Tom Davies for this midweek tussle.
Warnock has sympathy for Benitez, whom he played under at Liverpool, but he feels the big game will only go one way unless Everton can raise their levels.
A run of seven games without a win in the Premier League, their longest such streak since 2016, has seen Everton plummet to 14th in the Premier League going into the midweek round of games.
As a former Liverpool boss, Benitez needed a strong start to earn the affections of those on the blue side of the city, and having seen his team lose their way after promising early signs, he can ill afford a bruising defeat to the Reds.
“Rafa’s reign sort of started well, but then it’s gone probably horribly wrong for him,” Warnock told Stats Perform.
“But you have to look at injuries to key players – Dominic Calvert-Lewin being injured, Richarlison was out for a long time, [Abdoulaye] Doucoure [was] a huge, huge miss in the midfield.
“I look at Ben Godfrey and he’s obviously suffered a little bit from long COVID. The effects of that have been tough on him.
“But when you look at Everton, if Everton went into the derby with their strongest team, I think it’d be a competitive game. But if you look at the teams on paper, Liverpool will walk the game, it’ll be a comfortable game.
“I think Rafa needs a result in the game, because if he doesn’t get then I think the fans could possibly start to turn on him a little bit.”
7 – Everton are winless in seven Premier League games (D2 L5), their longest such run since April 2016 under Roberto Martínez (also seven). Rocky. pic.twitter.com/31dU5Geswu
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 28, 2021
Warnock made his Liverpool breakthrough in the 2004-05 season but missed out on Benitez’s teams for the Champions League and League Cup finals in that season.
He considers Benitez a mastermind when it comes to creating a game plan, but not the ideal man for rallying players to the cause.
“Well, I don’t think man-management is his biggest strength, if I am being completely honest,” said former England international Warnock.
“Rafa is more of a tactical genius, if you like, he understands how to set teams up.
“You’ve got to understand that that’s his strength, but he has to have people in and around him, who are good at man-management, understanding the players what their needs are.
“He’s not the type of manager who’s going to put an arm around you. He doesn’t have that sort of that personality to do that. But if you want someone who’s going to sort of be able to take a team forward tactically, then Rafa is your man.”
Benitez knows the significance of Wednesday’s game and has called on his players to generate a spicy atmosphere, the sort that can allow underdogs to overturn expectations.
In the 1980s, these were the dominant sides in English football, and although Liverpool remain serious silverware contenders, Warnock says the game remains a significant occasion in the city.
“The Merseyside derby will always be more special to me, purely because I grew up a Liverpool fan. I understand what it means,” he said.
“I come from a split household, where myself and my mum are Reds, and my dad and my brother are Blues, and that’s the way it is quite a lot around Merseyside.
“But come derby day, it’s changed a lot in the last sort of five or 10 years. It has got a little bit more hostile, it used to be a friendly derby, but now that’s changed.
“And I love it. I love derby day. I think it’s always a special occasion to play in those games, to be up the ground, to take it all in. Yeah, enjoyable games.”