It's official: Liverpool are well and truly back in the Premier League title race. They produced a magnificent performance yesterday to thrash Aston Villa at Anfield, in a match which severely dented the visiting team's fading hopes of securing a Champions League position.
Benitez was understandably keen for his team to send out a message of intent after Manchester United slipped up at the hands of Fulham on Saturday and the team did just that, running rampant for 90 minutes.
Liverpool certainly have their own players to thank for their unexpected return to the title race. They also have their manager to thank, who has shown his value to Liverpool during the last two weeks. However, Liverpool fans, who are once again becoming excited about the prospect of ending Manchester United's dreams of securing yet another Premier League title, also have another man to thank: Roy Hodgson.
Before the clash between Fulham and Manchester United on Saturday, the Fulham boss had some interesting words to say. The manager mirrored the opinion of most people, even those who wanted nothing more than to see United slip up in London, when he stated that "we'll work very hard, but the Liverpools and the Chelseas who are chasing Manchester United can't really expect that much of Fulham and think we'll beat Manchester United for them."
These words brought the usual criticism from many football pundits, who criticised the Fulham manager for being pessimistic and forcing a losing mentality into the minds of his players before they even entered the field of play. However, after seeing his team beat the champions of England, Europe, and indeed the world, Roy Hodgson may be laughing at those who thought he was admitting defeat before the match had been played.
It is actually possible that Hodgson deliberately picked his words to have an impact upon the psychology of the United team. Sir Alex Ferguson is a master at this art and loves nothing better than indulging in a war of words. By playing down his team's chances of picking up even a point against Manchester United, Hodgson encouraged complacency and arrogance to creep into the play of the opposite team's players.
The statement also gave his players a defiant mentality. The Fulham players evidently felt that they had a point to prove, whilst also playing with the weight of expectation firmly lifted from their shoulders. Nobody expected them to draw against United, let alone win, and the few optimistic fans who did harbour hopes let them slip after the Fulham manager apparently made it clear that the team was doomed to fail.
The players were therefore free to play the game they love without needing to worry that defeat would let people down (or indeed, lead to involvement in the relegation battle which has consumed so many sides this season and for this, the Fulham boss must also be praised).
It's a risky tactic to employ, and one which backfired on Hodgson earlier in the season when they came up against United. However, it is also a brave one and the Fulham boss deserves all the recognition and plaudits he gets after Saturday's victory.