In the next-to-last round of its thrilling title race with Manchester City, Liverpool really needs favors from two of its former managers over the coming days if the team is to become English champion for the first time since 1990.
One point separates the title contenders heading into their final two games, with City in the lead and on course to retain the trophy for the first time. Liverpool can take over in first place — at least temporarily — with a win at Newcastle, the northeast team managed by Benitez. The Spanish coach has never hidden his love of Liverpool — he still owns a house on Merseyside — and has an iconic status at the club after leading it to the Champions League title in 2005.
The closest he came to winning the league with Liverpool was in 2009 when it finished runner-up behind Manchester United. Conspiracy theories are doing the rounds about whether Benitez would be happy for Liverpool to win at St. James' Park on Saturday if that helps its title cause. After all, Newcastle has been safe from relegation for a couple of weeks.
However, this is Newcastle's last home game of the season so the team's passionate fans will be out in force. It could yet be a final game in the home dugout for Benitez, who is out of contract in June and will sign an extension only if he gets assurances from Newcastle's board about its ambition.
If Liverpool loses, City could clinch a fourth league title in seven years with a win at home to Leicester on Monday, and this is where Rodgers comes into play. The Northern Irishman has been Leicester's manager since the end of February and the team has won five of its eight games in that period, most recently a 3-0 victory over Arsenal. His style of play seems a good fit at Leicester, with striker Jamie Vardy scoring nine goals under Rodgers already.
Leicester — with its pace and threat on the counterattack — represents a genuine danger for City, which finishes the season with a trip to out-of-form and relegation-threatened Brighton. For many Liverpool fans, this weekend is when the title will be won and lost.
Rodgers doesn't appear to have the same affinity for Liverpool as Benitez — the Spaniard was in charge at Anfield for six years, nearly double the length of time as Rodgers — but came closer to winning the league with the Reds. In 2014, Rodgers' team finished two points behind City after being five clear with three games left.
"I am employed by Leicester. My focus is on Leicester City. There's no comparison, really," Rodgers said when asked about doing Liverpool a favor on Monday. "It's exciting to be involved but my thoughts are solely with Leicester and doing what we can to get a result."
Aside from City's brilliant form, given its 12-match winning run in the league, Liverpool also is at a disadvantage because its trip to Newcastle comes in the middle of a Champions League semifinal double-header against Barcelona. Liverpool lost 3-0 at Camp Nou in the first leg on Wednesday, and the return leg is on Tuesday.
Despite its great season both domestically and in Europe, the likelihood is Liverpool will wind up empty-handed for the fourth straight year under Klopp. Unless, of course, a couple of old faces help them out.
More AP English soccer: https://apnews.com/PremierLeague and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80