Rafa concentrates on Benfica clash

Rafael Benitez spoke to the press ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash with Benfica, and had to face the inevitable questions about his own future plans. Talk over the weekend has been all about him delivering an ultimatum that unless he gets a certain amount of money for transfers he’ll be on his way to Real or Inter. The amount he’s been demanding has varied depending on which story you read. So did Rafa have a problem with the Liverpool board over transfer funds? His response was simple: “You know what my answer is going to be. I am really focussed on the Champions League clash and am not worried about other things. All I am doing now is preparing my team for the game and talking to the players about the match. I have no problems with the board, with the Chairman or with the chief executive. I am happy here. All we want to do now is beat Benfica and then afterwards I promise my only thoughts will be on the Arsenal match.”

So without saying he was staying or going Rafa’s answer was open to interpretation. He said he was happy, he said he had no problems with the board, but he didn’t say he was staying. At least that’s how some will read it, but in reality Rafa fully intends to stay and as long as all the existing promises are kept that won’t be a problem.

So on to the match tonight. Liverpool are a goal down from the first leg. Any goal from Benfica would mean a draw on aggregate would be enough to take the Portuguese side through. Rafa played down the assumption that it’s all-out-attack for the Reds: “Our idea is clear. We want to score as early as we can, but if that’s not possible, okay, as long as we win the game at least 1-0 after 90 minutes we will be in the tie. Then we can think about extra-time. I know people are talking a lot about scoring a lot of goals. That’s what we would like to happen, but we need to be clever and use our experience of this situation.”

In this competition Liverpool have come back against tougher odds than
they are up against tonight, and Rafa hopes this helps to instil belief
in the players and the fans: “We’ve shown in the past that no matter
how difficult our position, we can come back. We did it against
Olympiakos and AC Milan when we needed three goals. These are good
memories for the supporters and the players. We showed how quickly a
game can change. If we score early it will be easier but if not we know
we can keep going right to the end. You can score three goals in eight
minutes, or score the crucial goal with the last kick. The game against
Charlton is also a good example.”

Liverpool’s strikers are playing well in every aspect of their game
except one. They are struggling to score. In the league at the weekend
the returning hero nearly got his first goal since he came back, but a
linesman flag put paid to that – incorrectly as replays showed later:
“We had to wait until the end to score a goal, and everyone can see
Robbie Fowler’s goal was onside. If the same thing happens again and
the decision is right, we will have extra-time.” Rafa says who scores
is unimportant, as long as it’s goal for the Reds: “If we see headlines
again after the game talking about our strikers not scoring and Sami
Hyypia and Jamie Carragher have found the net, I will be just as happy.
It is not important to me who we play in the side but how they play. We
have a selection of strikers and we can use anyone of four and I have
confidence in whoever I select. We struggled to score goals against
Charlton but I do not believe the opposing goalkeeper will be man of
the match in every game at Anfield.”

If Benfica do score tonight then Liverpool need three at least, but
Rafa is confident that if that’s what they need, that’s what they’ll
get: “If we need three goals I have confidence we can do that. I know
people are saying our strikers do not score, but I want to make it
clear that our team is playing well and that is all that really

Sami Hyypia’s hamstring strain will be given a late check this morning
at Melwood ahead of the game tonight. Sami had to be replaced at half
time in the game against Charlton with the injury, but came through a
training session yesterday without any problems. Rafa said yesterday:
“Sami trained today and will have another test tomorrow before we

Also still to be decided – at least publicly – is which strikers will
be playing tonight. One of the options is Robbie Fowler, who is
desperate to get his first goal of the second-coming out of the way.
Robbie said: “I would give anything to score the all-important goal.
Fingers crossed I will be involved. I have been here for six games and
I don’t think I or any of the other strikers are getting much luck.”

Robbie says that last season’s semi-final win over Chelsea shows how
much the fans can make a difference to the team: “I was in the crowd
for the Chelsea semi-final last season. That was an incredible
atmosphere and I know the Liverpool fans will be wanting to recreate
something that special again. When they are that noisy they inspire our
players and unsettle the opposition.”

Benfica’s boss Ronald Koeman says his side tend to raise their game the
bigger the task in front of them and is confident of progressing: “It
is going to be hard but sometimes we play better against big-name
teams. I want my team to play attractive football, whoever we are up
against. But that doesn’t mean we will neglect defence.”