Rafa: Ignore the rumours and get on with playing

Liverpool’s season is hitting a decisive and important phase in the
next few days. After all the excitement of the victory in Europe
followed by the rest brought on at the weekend due to being out of the
FA Cup, Liverpool now have two league games that if won would see the
gap between themselves and Everton closed to just two points. And of
course on Friday the draw for the Champions League quarter-finals takes
place, where Liverpool wait to see who they will face – and that draw
also includes Chelsea.

Since being bought as an overgrown Subbuteo set by a Russian with more
money than ever seen before in English football, it seems Chelsea have
been trying to use whatever tactics they can – on and off the pitch –
to ensure the Russian owner gets what he wants. There has been
extremely vociferous and public criticism of referees – one of whom
retired from football earlier this week after receiving death threats
in the wake of criticism from Chelsea. Mourhinho was sent off in the
Carling Cup final for his gestures to Liverpool fans. Sorry, he said
afterwards that it was a gesture to the press, even though he was
facing and looking at the Liverpool fans whilst making this gesture.
Peter Kenyon moved from Old Trafford to Stamford Bridge and is now
reported as having made many illegal approaches for players. It’s well
documented that Steven Gerrard was supposed to be on the verge of a
move in the summer – and of course if Liverpool hadn’t accepted a bid
from Chelsea, how could Steven Gerrard be aware of any interest? More
and more comments have been made linking Gerrard to Chelsea – to the
point where Rick Parry forced a newspaper to remove a story or face
heavy legal action.

The latest twist is that in the case that accuses Chelsea of making
another illegal approach – this time to Arsenal’s Ashley Cole – Steven
Gerrard’s name has once again being brought into the headlines as being
on his way to Chelsea. This time the story goes that one of the things
allegedly said to Ashley Cole in a bid to entice him was that Steven
Gerrard was already signed up for next season.

So once again, Rafael Benitez is having to face more "Gerrard to
Chelsea" questions at his press conferences. Totally unneccessary and
beginning to clearly annoy the Spanish boss. He says: "It is important
we just concentrate on the games. When you hear things that you do not
like I always say the same, Steven will play for us, he is our player
and he wants to play as well as possible. It is the only thing we have
in our heads."

Rafa went on: "We won’t talk about rumours, only about the next game
with Blackburn and the points we want to win. We do not talk about the
things you read in the papers or see on TV. As far as I am concerned
Gerrard is with us and we have an important game for us and that is
what I want to talk about."

Benitez is fully aware of how important a fully-confident and focused
Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool. He says: "I try to talk to Stevie every
day, mainly after training sessions, and he always says to me he is
focused on the games and wants to do his best for Liverpool. I ask him
whether he is confident and you can see in him that is the case. He
knows he played better in the last game and that is what I want for the
future for him to just concentrate on the games. Nothing else."

Gerrard himself admitted that the game in Germany saw him return to the
form expected of him, and maybe Benitez had pointed this out to him:
"He knew he had not played to his best level in recent games but
against Leverkusen last week he played well and that is what we want to
see from him, if he plays well then we play well."

Distractions are a-plenty and the game with Blackburn is in danger of
becoming a minor event – a situation that could be dangerous for
Liverpool who must win against a team managed by ex-Man Utd "hardman"
Mark Hughes. Benitez says: "With the Champions League draw coming up we
have been determined just to concentrate on the Premier League, we try
not to think about Europe, rather what we have to do in the league over
the next few days.  We have a tough game against Blackburn and we
know it will be difficult and we must concentrate on that.

"I know everybody says we play better in Champions League games than in
our own domestic matches, and it is true we play well in Europe.

"But we have also played well in Premier League games against the likes
of Chelsea and Arsenal, big games, so the target it to be more
consistent and to play at the same level all the time.

"We have talked a lot about such things and I say to the players that
if we have done well in games in Europe then we can do the same here,
all we need to do is to concentrate.

"We know how important this week is for us, and we will try to do what we do in Europe in all our games."

If the players are as focussed as their manager, Liverpool have every
chance of closing this gap on Everton – and they need the fans behind
all the players in these forthcoming matches – despite the speculation.