Rafa pleased with win as Reds enter crucial period

Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez was relieved that Liverpool brought a rough patch to end against Wigan yesterday, with a 1-0 win at the JJB stadium. According to Rafa the win was deserved and will increase confidence levels which had started to dip recently: “We worked really hard for the win and showed we have character. It was an important win for us because recent results have not been good. It’s also important in terms of our confidence and I think the players have today got their just desserts because they have worked very hard for it.”

There’s no dispute that Wigan’s pitch is in poor condition, at times causing players to slip and stumble, but Rafa agreed that both sides had to play on the same pitch, and says that the Wigan side was good: “It was a difficult game against a good team who played high tempo football. The pitch did not help and some of our players tired towards the end because of this. Sometimes it was a problem keeping the ball and passing it but it was the same for both sides. We were trying to play well and I think we were organised throughout. At the start of the second half Wigan pressed but we controlled most of the match. We showed character, our movement was good but at times our final pass let us down.”
Sami Hyypia got the Liverpool winner, and so the comments will continue about Liverpool strikers failing to get goals. Rafa wasn’t surprised it was the Finn that got the goal though: “Sami has been known to score goals before. I think the type of goal he scored was more of a surprise because he normally scores with his head. It is good to see defenders getting forward. It gives us more possibilities in attack. If the strikers can’t score then it’s important that we can rely on other areas of the team to provide goals.”

Liverpool will be glad to have got a victory under their belts again
ahead of Tuesday’s visit of Arsenal. Arsenal may be stuttering compared
to their usual standards this season, but they’ll be no pushovers in
the game in midweek. Next up then is the visit of Manchester United in
Saturday’s FA Cup tie before the resumption of Champions League
football against Benfica. A tough set of matches, but Rafa says it’s
important to deal with one game at a time: “We take each game as it
comes along but yes, this period coming up is very important to us.”
Liverpool would love to finish second in the league and so be given an
automatic Champions League place next season, but finishing in the top
four is the wider target, to ensure at least a chance to enter during
the qualifying stages next season. Arsenal are just outside the
top-four and are looking to ensure they don’t miss out on the
competition next season. Liverpool are more than aware of how important
this is: “To finish in the top four is very important financially for
us as well as Arsenal. We know what finishing in the top four, staying
in the Champions League and doing well in the FA Cup means in terms of

And the constant clamour to add new faces to the Anfield squad is not
lost on Rafael Benítez – but as he says there’s a need to ensure you
get the best out of the resources available, so that you can improve
for the next season: “It is a vicious circle. To gain access to the
best players you have to be in the top four and in the Champions
League, otherwise they will not come. We do our best not to think about
these things because it will add to the pressure, but the reality is
that only if we win and keep winning will we have the money we need to

And Benítez says these three matches in the three different
competitions really define the remainder of the season for the Reds:
“These games are going to be difficult for us, but the important thing
is that at least we are involved in big games at this stage of the
season. After playing Arsenal, Manchester United and Benfica, we will
have a clear idea of how our season will go.”

Robbie Fowler will be itching to get some Champions League action, and
after managing a very promising 65 minutes against Wigan yesterday he
should be ready to be used if needed by the time the Benfica game comes
along. Fowler is cup-tied for the visit of Manchester United, but Rafa
was pleased with how Robbie played yesterday: “He did well and his
understanding with Morientes was good.” It’s felt by many that
Morientes is more likely to succeed for the Reds when wearing the
Champions League shirt, and the prospect of Fowler finding his fitness
and linking up with Nando is one that Rafa will be looking forward to.

Fowler himself was pleased with his first start for the Reds in his
second spell at the club. Speaking to Radio City in Liverpool he said:
“It’s been a long time since I started, but I felt I didn’t play too
badly. Although I did tire, I was happy with what I put into the game.
I’ve done my fair share of training, probably no more than the rest of
the lads in terms of quantity, but I have been putting in that extra in
terms of quality.”

A long time out through injury for Fowler means he’s desperately short
of match fitness, but he still feels he’s got a lot to offer: “I’ve
felt sharp, although with me virtually not playing since May, it was
fairly obvious I was going to tire, but it was just great to be back,
although I’m desperate to get that first goal, and I’m confident in
what I can do. If I’m not scoring and the team is winning, I’m very
happy with that, but as a forward you always want to score goals, and
I’m no different.”

Fowler set up Morientes for a great chance that was well-saved by the
Wigan goalkeeper, but Robbie was just glad of the three points above
all else: “The important thing was the win and the clean sheet because
we have been on a bit of a bad run. There had been a bit of a blip, and
that’s not down to anyone in particular. Maybe the lads are tired with
the run they’ve had, but the three points are a boost. Thankfully that
blip is behind us, and we have to look forward.”

Former Liverpool reserve striker and graduate of the Anfield Boot-room
way of coaching Paul Jewell was pleased with how well his Wigan side
did under the circumstances: “We were up against it without any
recognised strikers and I have to give my lads credit, especially in
the second half. It is tough but it is where we want to be. We’ve moved
mountains to get where we are and we’ll have to continue to do so to
stay in the top half of the table.”