Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Benitez to talk to all the players

Rafael Benitez will mount his own inquest into Liverpool's faltering title challenge, claiming that he will ask ''everybody'' to get to the root of the problem.

The Reds face a home Premier League game against Sunderland on Tuesday, knowing they are seven points behind leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand after Liverpool's disastrous defeat at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

The title race is all but over, with Liverpool having won only one of their last seven league games and now the recriminations will start, while boss Benitez has made it plain his own inquest will be far-reaching.

When asked at a gloomy media conference if he will look at individual players, the tactics and himself, the answer was clear: ''At everybody.''

Benitez accepts that confidence must be raised this week, beginning with a good performance against Sunderland to send the side into next Tuesday's Champions League last-16 second-leg clash at home to Real Madrid in the right frame of mind.

If Liverpool go out of Europe - they hold a 1-0 lead from last week's first-leg victory at the Bernabeu - their season will be effectively over.

They face a battle to finish in the top two of the league and automatically qualify for the Champions League, with Chelsea in second on goal difference and Aston Villa breathing down their necks.

''We have talked about the mistakes we made (at Middlesbrough) and the future,'' said Benitez. ''And the immediate future is playing Sunderland, trying to get three points and then waiting to see what happens with Manchester United.

''The title was difficult before; it is more difficult now. What we have to do is take our chances, and that is something that has been the same problem the whole season.''

Fernando Torres will again be missing with an ankle injury while full-back Alvaro Arbeloa is out with a hamstring problem.

Benitez said: ''We have to keep going. We are disappointed so we will try to win the next game and then have a week to plan for Real Madrid.

''We can still progress in the Champions League and it still gives us the chance of a trophy. We must keep going in the title race, to try to win each game as it comes along.

''Now we have the opportunity against Sunderland to do things right, to be able to approach the Real Madrid second leg with confidence. We have to remain positive.

''We have learned we must be more clinical, to finish games when you have chances.''

He added: ''But we must not forget that our league performance is better than last season. But still we have to improve. Yes, we have had key players injured and maybe that could have cost us four or five points.

''In this title race that would be a massive difference. We are in a good position but we could be in a much better position.''

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