Confident Reds need to avoid complacency

The doom and gloom at Anfield that was hovering after the defeat to Manchester United has all but disappeared. The confidence boost that came from three wins in a row and 10 goals scored has banished those clouds. Rather than having to raise the squad morale Rafa now has to be wary of the players becoming too confident. Many of the Liverpool players have been giving interviews this week reflecting that confidence.

Steven Gerrard was on the first, speaking after he scored on Tuesday night in the Champions League win, his first goal of the season. His mood was much improved after that win and goal. He’s had to endure some complete nonsense in the papers linking him with a move away from Anfield because he was unhappy with the boss (that story was hawked around the press by a former Manchester United player and disbelieved by all but the most gullible members of the press). He’s had to endure even worse rumours than the ones the papers printed, all false, all spread with great delight by those who don’t support Liverpool. In the aftermath of that game he spoke about his delight at the goal and also about how tired of the rumours he was. “I know I needed to look at my own performances and I know I need to play better. I needed to find my own form first, but as captain I have to help other players find their best form. The only way this can happen is to take responsibility for yourself and your performances.”

As for those rumours, he finally felt it was time to put his side forward: “I've heard it all, my body language isn't right, there's a problem and I am not happy at the club, I've got problems off the field, my head's not in it. I've heard them all and I'll say now that it is just not the case. I'm a professional footballer and the only thing on my mind when I'm playing is the game.”

His most important sentence of the week was probably this one: “I will be at Liverpool for many years to come and I'm loving every second.”

He said it was no wonder he looked miserable after Liverpool’s last defeat: “Walking away from Old Trafford for instance, having lost 2-0 to Manchester United and having let the supporters and ourselves down while watching United celebrate hurt me. I'm the Liverpool captain, and a Liverpool fan. It's not a time for me to be smiling or chatting to United players because I'm hurting like hell.”

Obviously feeling a great weight had been lifted, he went on: “I've been missing something since the start of the season and I have not had that spark to my game. I think coming back from the World Cup has been a factor. There had to be a reaction from us after the defeat at Old Trafford. And in the last few games you have seen that.”

Getting quite passionate by now, the Reds skipper went on: “What gets me down is losing games and hearing so much rubbish about me. I'm sick of it, the players are sick of it and so is the manager and the fans. I feel really sorry for the fans who have to see the focus put on me again, but what can I do about it? I feel from the reaction of the fans at the Bordeaux game that they are not taking any notice of that stuff any more and that is exactly how I want it to be.”

This spirited talk and the three wins in a row got to Gerrard’s Liverpool and England team-mate, forward Peter Crouch, who is talking about this as being a significant stage in the season. He’s refusing to write of the Reds title chances now: “Perhaps the victory over Bordeaux can be a turning point in the season. Hopefully we can go on a bit of a run. We have always felt we have the quality to win games, now it is a case of showing it. We have fallen behind a touch and got a lot of making up to do but we believe we can do and hopefully we can go out and prove it.”

Winning is obviously better than losing, as Crouch says: “It is enjoyable at the moment as we are scoring goals and the way we are playing. We have kept the same side in two games and played well in both of them but we have a big squad and I am sure the manager will use it. We have certainly been in good form at home and got to take that form away from home. With the players we have, we are certainly capable of doing that.”

Crouch’s confidence is great to hear, but it’s important that he remembers this: “You can do all the talking you want – you have to get results.”

As for the captain, Crouch said: “It was good to see Steve get on target. He brings so much to the team anyway, not just goals. I wouldn't be surprised if he went on a little run.”

Crouch’s fellow front-man Dirk Kuyt is another who’s been revealing the new-found confidence and belief in the squad, saying: “We have scored ten goals in three games, and now we're starting to show our quality. We have a very good team and have showed this over the last few matches. Now we have to go on from here and win the next few games.”

He did remember that those wins only include one league game though: “It's important not only to show we are good in the Champions League, but also the Premiership. We know we have to win more games. After we lost to Manchester United everyone was down and we knew it was important to recover quickly. It's meant a lot to have won the three games since, but we also know that's only three games and we need to do more.”

He went on “We know a difficult start happened, but we've shown in the last three games we have the quality. We had enough chances to score even more on Tuesday, but it was also very important for us to have kept a clean sheet.”

Liverpool’s vice captain Jamie Carragher always keeps his feet on the ground without letting bad times get to him, always looking to spur the team on. He spoke of his delight that his mate Gerrard was off the mark now, which is great for the player and the club: “Stevie is up and running now, and it was a great relief for him to get that goal.  He scored 23 last season, which is tremendous for a midfielder – and it will be difficult to better that. You cannot expect him to repeat it every year, but I am sure he will get into double figures. Stevie was a bit unfortunate before his goal. He had quite a few opportunities but did not hit the target. I know him well and how he would have felt if he had not scored.”

As for the infamous rotation issue, Carra found it funny to see the boss stop short of naming 100 consecutive changed sides: “The manager has his way of doing things and has done an excellent job. It is a bit strange he has gone out on 99. You have a bit of laugh about it. Didn't Mike Atherton go out on 99 a couple of times? He is the manager, he picks the team and the success he has had speaks for itself.”

Carra says that Liverpool’s Champions League performances must now be matched in the league: “We have been really disappointing in the Premier League and not done as well as we have in the Champions League.” Next up is Reading at home, today, Carra’s 300th league appearance, and he wants to see the players focussed: “We just have to concentrate on beating Reading. We are not as high in the table as we would have liked. Reading gave us a bit of a stir in the cup and we are well aware of what they can do. It is going to be a very tough game.”

Rafael Benítez himself said earlier in the season that it would be this month before fans saw the best of Liverpool. The three wins have brought confidence that if tapped correctly will lead to much better performances in every game, home or away. Rafa was glad to talk about this new-found happiness in the squad: “We have won three games this week and scoring goals and that means our players are confident and everyone is talking positively about them. It is now easier for us to show our real level. We have enough quality to win many games in a row.”

Thankfully Rafa is making sure the players don’t assume anything. Their opponents today might be newly-promoted but they aren’t just going to roll over: “Reading are not easy and we have made that clear to the players but we do have confidence. People know we are now playing well and scoring goals, that helps us as we go into matches. Reading are well organised, I know they have lost three league games in succession but they have a good manager and they are a good team. Sometimes when you lose a few games, it can affect your confidence.”

Rafa repeated what he’d said earlier in the season: “I said many times that we would not see the best Liverpool until November and that was because of all the distractions of the World Cup and international breaks stopping players working together and being able to train to the best level.” The boss feels that it’s much easier now to train his players: “We have now won three on the trot and we are hoping for another. We are able to talk and work with the players all the time; these things are important. Sometimes they are all travelling all over Europe and don't see their team mates until the Friday of each week. Now in November I believe we will see the best of Liverpool.”

Today is the last of those four successive league games, and is followed by a trip to Birmingham midweek in the Carling Cup before next weekend’s game at Arsenal. Rafa continued: “Now we hope to beat Reading at Anfield and next week we will start to address why we are not the same in away games. If we can now win three or four more games in a row we will be very close to, or in, the top four.”

Rafa had kind words for Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher: “Maybe not scoring was playing on Stevie's mind, but now he has scored we will see him scoring many, many more times now. Jamie has a fantastic commitment every day in training and in every game he plays. For a manager to see that is brilliant. He is a strong character, he's a winner and he loves football. Physically he is always in the best condition, he trains well and is always fit. When you sign a player you want one who can play 40 to 50 games each season, Carra is that type of player.”

The transformation of Carra under Rafael Benítez has been amazing. He’s always given his all, but it’s Rafa that’s found how to use that enthusiasm for the best: “It is very important for a local boy like Jamie to play a lot of games for his club. I know the fans will be happy, especially because he is a player who always gives 100%. Sometimes even the very best players are not always able to do that, but Carra always plays at his best level. Maybe he will make a mistake but it never worries him because he just continues in the same way. Every manager would want him in their team.”

Rafa has a couple of injury concerns and he revealed that although Craig Bellamy was training normally, this game had come a little too soon for him. Xabi Alonso was injured in the Champions League and Rafa will leave it late before deciding whether or not to use him and Luis Garcia today: “Xabi is fit and available and while Craig is training again I won't risk him against Reading. Mark Gonzalez is fit and available and we will see how Luis Garcia is on Saturday.”

Whoever does play needs to take on board everything they’ve been told about balancing out this new found confidence against the risk of complacency against a side on a poor run who are looking to work hard to bring it to an end.