Rafael Benitez spoke today of the importance of tonight’s game at
Anfield – but stopped short of saying it’s an all-or-nothing game.
Victory over Blackburn at Anfield would move Liverpool closer to
fourth-placed Everton prior to Sunday’s derby clash – but defeat
wouldn’t end Liverpool chances. Said Benitez: "If we win, we will
narrow the gap. If we don’t win, it will be difficult. But I always say
the same, we will keep on fighting to the end. I joked that Christmas
was supposed to be an important time for us, then the month after that.
But we know if we win these two games we will be very, very close to
Everton. We would have more possibilities and it would be easier for me
to motivate the players. The players know how important this week will
be, but I don’t want to talk too much about the two games because the
first thing is to win the first game."
Benitez recognises that Sunday’s game against Everton will be
passionate and doesn’t expect he’ll have to do much to motivate his
team against the Blues. Tonight’s game is the one that he needs to wind
them up for: "For me it is important to have the players concentrating
on this game because the other one, the second game against Everton, is
easy because the atmosphere will be fantastic and it will be easy for
me to motivate the players. For me it is more important to win this
Mark Hughes has never been a popular figure at Anfield, and visits
tonight as the opposition manager. Renowned for the "hard" side of
nature on the field, perhaps his reputation is following him into
management. Rafa said: "Blackburn are aggressive and they know what to
do." Maybe not though, as Liverpool’s Spanish boss went on: "They play
good, counter-attacking football and we know it will be a tough game.
We have been in training for the past two days with a clear idea of how
to play them."
Accusations have been flying recently that Liverpool have possibly
ruined the career of Harry Kewell after not allowing him sufficient
time to rest in his quest to recover from various injuries. The latest
accusations have come from Kewell’s manager, who seems to have
qualified as a doctor since he caused Liverpool so much embarrassment
during the Kewell transfer saga over who got what when the money was
Still, if Kewell’s not been allowed to rest enough, Benitez has done
his best to let the rest of the squad have a chance to relax. By
playing basketball. He said: "We have tried to do something different
in training. After Champions League games and important matches like
the final of the Carling Cup, you know you need to relax. We have been
playing basketball and mixing up the teams with staff and players. The
players have enjoyed it, then we completed two normal training sessions
yesterday when the players have done very well and concentrated. We
need to do this because we know this is a very important week."
As Benitez continues to have to battle with off-the-field rumours and
stories, yet another one rears it’s head. The Spanish giants Real
Madrid have struggled this season, changing coach not enough to help
them to stay in the Champions League, and only mathematical miracles
would allow them to win the league now. So of course the rumour-mill
continues and now it seems Benitez is set to return home. That’s if you
believe the rumours – Benitez denites them: "Real Madrid is just
another rumour. At the moment I don’t have any other ideas apart from
the Blackburn Rovers game. I am proud to be the Liverpool manager and
now I want to beat Blackburn. I have five years on my contract so why
shouldn’t I be here for a long time?"
The sad fact for Benitez is that the changing mood of the Liverpool
fans may give him a reason to move should Liverpool fail to win this
evening. There are three-thousand unsold tickets for the match and so
pay-on-the-gate returns to Anfield – something quite unusual in recent
years. Rather than having so many empty seats, maybe Liverpool should
have given some of the tickets away to school-kids – bringing some
enthusiasm to the crowd again who in many game this season seem to have
turned into collective grumpy-old-man.
Of course victory tonight would keep the grumpy-old-men happy for a little longer.