Rafa Benitez sends out his Liverpool team for their last home game in his first season. The players he selects will be hoping to impress him enough to earn a place in the team for the Champions League Final in Istanbul ten days later. For many though it will be about more than that, as it’s possibly their last chance to prove they can still be Reds players next season.
Vladimir Smicer has already been told he’s not going to be needed next season, and others will be waiting to hear what the boss has to say. For some players though it looks like they’ll be able to relax for the few weeks break they’ve got between Istanbul and pre-season training. Rafa said:
"Some players have had very good seasons. Jamie Carragher has been fantastic and Sami Hyypia very consistent, while John Arne Riise has scored a lot of goals. I think Steve Finnan and Djimi Traore have been excellent. They’ve progressed a lot.
That’s some acheivement for Finnan and Traore, two full-backs that looked to be heading out of Anfield before the season began. All five players mentioned are defenders, although Riise has been used mainly as a midfielder this season. Rafa says that Liverpool fans will know which players have been putting in the effort and which ones have failed to impress: "As a manager, you don’t want to pick out individuals, but the supporters can see a lot of the players have played well, others have shown potential for the future, but some of them know they can do better. Our job is to get the maximum from everyone."
Benitez confirmed he would be looking to bring some new faces in next season – but wouldn’t be pressed on where he was looking to strengthen – he would only say, "Quality players."
Two quality players he’s already brought to the club are Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia, both from Spain. Garcia will be rested tomorrow due to a minor injury concern to give him more chance to play in Turkey. Alonso spoke about how pleased he was to see his countryman settle in so well: “I always knew that he would settle here. He has found his feet very quickly and is showing everybody what a good player he is. He is doing well and scoring very important goals. It is great to see him being so successful now at Liverpool."
Xabi continued: "Luis is a midfielder but he has a great ability to score goals also.
Against Juventus, against Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea, plus the one he
scored against Everton in the Mersey derby, show his eye for goal. Scoring goals from midfield is a contribution that is
very hard to find these days, but Luis fits a variety of roles and is
very important to the team because of this. He is always around the box, looking for the openings and is difficult
to defend against."
Liverpool’s profile in Spain has increased thanks to Benitez being at the helm and his introduction of Spanish players into the team, and Garcia has benefitted from this says Xabi: “He has been called up by Spain since arriving in England and made his
international debut. He is now much more well known because of what he has done for
Liverpool, and things can only improve for him now.”
Benitez first managed Garcia when he was boss at Tenerife, and although he knew he’d need some time to settle in knew he was going to be a valuable player in a Red shirt: “He works so well between the lines. It takes time to settle into the English style, and he has achieved that. People should remember that it took Robert Pires a full season in England to come to terms with the pace and strength of the game, but look at him now. Luis Garcia will only improve from here on.”
More praise too from the manager for Liverpool’s young goalkeeper Scott Carson. Whilst Jerzy Dudek’s and Chris Kirkland’s futures look far from certain as Benitez sets up his summer signings, Carson is considered one for the future and Benitez was pleased that he was named in the England squad. Sven Goran Eriksson takes England on a tour to the USA at the end of the month and Carson will be with them. Rafa says: "It’s good news for us and for him. People may say it’s only a friendly, but when the national team picks you it is always an honour. Scott has worked very hard since joining us."