Saturday, January 31, 2009


Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano admits he has struggled to find his best form this season.

The Reds are on a 15-match unbeaten run, but seven draws in their last 11 Barclays Premier League outings have been very damaging to their title hopes.

It has allowed Manchester United to regain top spot - with Chelsea, Sunday's visitors to Anfield, moving into second place on goal difference.

There could hardly be a better time therefore for the Argentina captain to bounce back to his best - and he is determined to do so.

"I know I have not played like my old self this season. I can do much better," he said.

"I think maybe it is because it has been a long season already for me and that maybe my confidence is not as full as it was last season.

"The Olympics (last summer) have definitely had an effect on my form and my ability this season. I should be playing better for Liverpool than I am at the moment." Mascherano is hoping he can put things right soon.

"I want to promise people one thing - I am trying every day in training and in games to get back to my best performances.

"This is not my best season, I know that last season I was a lot better. I am not a liar and I am not stupid.

"I know I can do it - that is why I don't mind admitting it. If you cannot see the problem to analyse it, you are not going to be able to resolve it." Mascherano's dip in form, plus the failure of Robbie Keane to make a genuine impact, are two of the roots of Rafael Benitez's problems with tactics and team selection.

Benitez said: "Javier is right, because he needed time after the Olympic Games. But now he is coming back to his best.

"He just needs to keep working like he is doing every single day. You can see his commitment in training."

Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera - all rested to the bench for the 1-1 draw at Wigan on Wednesday - will return to Benitez's side.

Despite the controversy of the past month and Liverpool's fading form, Benitez insists he does not feel under pressure.

He said: "I am pleased to be where we are - because trying to avoid relegation is not nice.

"We are close to the top; we have improved the squad, and if we can beat Chelsea people will say we are back in the title race.

"But it is a very long race. I have confidence in my team and my players - and they have a good mentality. They must go on to the pitch to show their qualities."

Benitez is heartened to note Liverpool are still faring better this season than last.

"We know our players; we speak to them every day and we know the decisions to make - and thanks to those decisions, we are eight points better than at this stage last season," he added.

"This has always been a must-win-game - as they all are. After my comments about Mr Ferguson, we still knew we had to win at Stoke. Those words didn't change anything on the pitch.

"The same applies to other games this month that have followed some controversy.

"Every point is important - it doesn't matter what is being said off the pitch. This season, we are in a much better position than before."

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