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Liverpool Karma Through Christian Benteke Eases Manchester Derby Tension

Tuesday 25th April 2017
Six degrees of separation and the butterfly effect combined forces on Sunday, causing Liverpool to unintentionally make life easier for both United and City as those two clubs prepare for the Manchester Derby.
John Henry Davies was born, it's thought, in 1864. He died on 24 October, 1927. In between, he made a fortune as a brewmaster. In 1902, he rescued a debt-burdened football club known as Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, rechristening it Manchester United.

John William Henry was born on 13 September, 1949. He hasn't yet kicked the bucket. His fortune was made in financial management. In 2010, he purchased a debt-ridden football club then and still known as Liverpool FC.

If that strange bit of nomenclature doesn't convince you Liverpool and United's fortunes will forever be entwined, you have no soul.

The clubs have long been rivals, a natural byproduct for England's two most decorated sides. Sir Alex Ferguson once told the Guardian his "greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f**king perch, and you can print that." When Rafa Benitez was his counterpart, it was an undeniable "fact" feelings were mutual. The last thought for anyone attached to either club would be to do something to help the other. Yet, that is exactly what Liverpool has done in a long, convoluted manner culminating with their loss to Crystal Palace, Sunday.

John Henry, the living, also owns baseball's Boston Red Sox. Boston is three miles from Cambridge, the city best known for housing Harvard University. Cambridge is also Edward Lorenz's birthplace.
Lorenz was a meteorologist and mathematician who helped pioneer chaos theory. Attempting to explain in lay terms how chaos theory applies to weather, he coined the metaphor positing a butterfly's wings generating tiny puffs of air in one hemisphere might one day lead to a raging hurricane in another.

He probably never imagined his phrase would inspire a film that nearly transformed a fatuous male model into a serious actor. But, that too, is chaos theory. It's safe to say he definitely never thought a future Boston Red Sox owner would buy an English football club, sign a footballer he couldn't use, bench said footballer, thereby creating bad blood, finally sell the player, only for him to come back to exact revenge by scoring a brace in a come-from-behind victory, placing said owner's English football club at risk to lose its Champions League place to its greatest rival. But--say it with me--that too, is chaos theory.

Ironically, Henry's Boston club once had an owner, Harry Frazee, who sold a player to the Bosox' biggest rival in order to finance a Broadway show he was producing. The player was George Herman Ruth. The rival was the New York Yankees, which is as close to United and Liverpool as baseball gets. The Babe grew into his game's greatest player, still immortalized more than a half-century after his death. Meanwhile, the Red Sox went more than eight decades before winning another World Series, a drought that became known as the Curse of the Bambino.

Henry bought the Boston team in 2002 in a six degrees of separation sidebar that involved selling his Florida Marlins to the erstwhile Montreal Expos owner, Jeffrey Loria, while the league took over the Expos, moving them to Washington, DC, where they became the Nationals. Henry quickly went about reshaping his new club's management and squad, breaking the Curse of the Bambino two years later, when the Red Sox defeated the Yankees to advance to the World Series, wherein they swept the St Louis Cardinals in four games. To further the sidebar, Loria's Marlins would win a World Series, too. The Nationals would not.
When Henry bought Liverpool in 2010, the Reds were enduring their twentieth season without an English top-flight title. Three FA Cups, four League Cups, a UEFA Cup, and two Champions League titles barely eased the suffering. United were dominating the Premier League, winning it thirteen times, while also claiming two Champions Leagues, and five apiece between the FA and League Cups.

Henry must have been fooled by the arithmetic into thinking the Curse of the Bambino, at more than eighty years, was four times worse than the Reds predicament, thus putting the Kop back on top would be easy-peasy. Breaking the Fergie curse has proven far more difficult, though.

Henry came close in 2014. Brendan Rodgers' Reds faltered at the finish, losing the league by two points after proving unable to match Manchester City's perfect stretch run. Unfortunately, the club's talisman, Luis Suarez suffered a relapse of his socially awkward teething problem at that summer's World Cup. Public opinion pressured Liverpool into selling him to Barcelona. From there, matters went from bad to worse.

Less knowledgeable regarding football business than baseball, Henry had adopted a transfer policy by committee. Rather than seeking out a like-for-like Suarez replacement, albeit without periodontal complications, the committee decided Liverpool should acquire a traditional target man. This despite Liverpool favoring a narrower attack over wing play and crosses and having already made an identical error when selling Fernando Torres to Chelsea, then immediately purchasing Andy Carroll. Still, in for a penny, in for thirty-two-and-a-half million pounds. Aston Villa's Christian Benteke was identified as the best target man available, then purchased.

Naturally, Benteke did not fit in well with Rodgers tactics nor his new teammate's playing styles. It wasn't long before he was benched. As he tended, and had more than once at Villa Park, the Belgian international became tetchy when things did not go his way. Eventually, another sale was pushed through to Crystal Palace, that, should the player reach certain milestones, would see Liverpool break even on their ill-advised investment. Judging by Benteke's Anfield performance at the weekend, Henry will soon be able to balance the books, unfortunately at the expense of his club potentially slipping from Champions League contention.

The match began brightly for the home side. Benteke had wasted an opportunity on twenty minutes, blasting wide after doing his best Luis Suarez through four defenders. Three minutes later, Liverpool were awarded a free kick in Philippe Coutinho's kitchen, just outside the box, slightly to the goal's left. Wayne Hennessey set up his wall to cover the near post, then took up a position practically within arm's reach of the far upright. Coutinho happily curled his shot over the wall, just inside the near post, the Palace 'keeper unable to traverse the goalmouth in time to parry it away. The Reds were up one-nil.
Palace do not expect Benteke to be Luis Suarez, however. They prefer he play his more accustomed role as target man. Just before halftime, he did. Yohan Cabaye ran onto an overhead delivered down the right flank from Palace's half into Liverpool's box. Catching up just as the ball bounced into the eighteen, the Frenchman squared it across goal with his first touch. Benteke beat his marker with a far post run to thunder the ball into the goal's roof. He was not done. In the seventy-third minute, Liverpool allowed a low near-post corner to bounce into the six-yard box. Benteke was waiting in a crouch to head it home for the winner.

After both goals, Benteke ran to the corner flag, where he adopted the proud warrior pose every power forward from Eric Cantona to Zlatan Ibrahimovic must perfect before being issued his International Brotherhood of Target Men union card. The fire in Benteke's eyes revealed just how much satisfaction he derived from putting Liverpool to the sword.

Had the Reds both marked Benteke and defended set pieces better they would likely have come away with a critical three points. While the Reds have played at least two more matches than every club in the top seven, save Everton, victory would have exerted pressure on Chelsea and Tottenham, the two sides above them that were otherwise occupied squaring off in the FA Cup Saturday. Sixty-nine points would have moved Liverpool two behind Spurs, six shy the Blues. The Premier League title could have become a three-horse race.

Perhaps more importantly, beating Palace would have distanced Liverpool from their closest pursuit. Playing the second leg in this campaign's Manchester Derby on Thursday, City and United would each have needed more than a win to catch the Anfield mob for third place. Worse, a draw when five or six points in arrears would have been a blow to both Mancunian candidates.
Allowing Benteke to all but secure Palace's safety puts Liverpool's Champions League place in jeopardy. Victory at the Etihad for City now would see Pep Guardiola's side leapfrog the Reds into position to qualify directly for next season's Champions League group stages. A United triumph draws Jose Mourinho's crew level with 'Pool. A draw would still be less desirable but acceptable, given the two clubs would remain one result from 'Pool with two matches in hand.

To paraphrase Edward Lorenz, an FSG boardmember flapped his gums about signing a player unsuited to Liverpool's needs, creating a perfect storm a year later, one that Anfield may not weather but very well may bring clear European nights for both City and United. That is chaos theory, Premier League style.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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