Rafa warns players against over-confidence

Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez has been speaking about Saturday’s 2-1 win over Reading and looking ahead to the Champions League second-leg game against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday.

Liverpool left it late to tie up victory over a Reading side pushing for a place in Europe. Liverpool have faced many teams looking to just hold on for a point this season, home and away, but Reading were looking to win from the off. This was what Rafa had expected: “In the first half we had a plan and it was clear we needed to play on the counter attack. Reading were going forward and pushing high and that gave us the chance to play on the break.”

To Rafa the half-time lead should have been greater than 1-0, but when Reading equalised early in the second half he had to take a different approach: “We maybe should have been 2-0 up at the break. We had some breaks and the final pass was very close to coming off, but then we conceded the goal and we needed to change our style of football, and we then had more control, more possession and more chances.”

Rafa changed the style by bringing Craig Bellamy off early: “We weren’t
creating a lot with the movements of the strikers and I wanted to
change that by playing more in between the lines and using the wingers.
Craig had a problem with an injury over the last week, and I thought
that this would be a good game from him to play in. He had some chances
in the first half with one or two runs, but we weren’t doing enough in
attack so I changed it.”

The first goal for Liverpool was scored by new signing, and full back,
Alvaro Arbeloa: “The way Arbeloa put the ball away, I thought he was a
striker,” said Rafa. “We knew that he was a player that could go
forward with the ball. The first pass he made was a bad one as Bellamy
was free and he ended up giving it to Crouch, but at the end of the day
it was important goal, and it was also good for him and his confidence.”

Dirk Kuyt scored the winner against Reading from Jermaine Pennant’s
excellent cross, but the Dutchman won’t be in the squad for the
quarter-final visit of his compatriots on Wednesday due to suspension.
Some suggested that he’d got himself booked deliberately to ensure he
was available for the semi finals, but despite the 3-0 lead from that
first leg the Liverpool camp aren’t taking anything for granted: “We
must approach the game with caution,” says the Reds boss. “If they
score an early goal they will continue going forward and maybe our
players will get nervous. We must approach it like we’re playing
Barcelona – trying to win.”

So would the first-leg lead actually bring problems for Liverpool? “I
don’t think there’s any more pressure on us because we are winning,”
claimed Rafa, “Over-confidence can be a problem, though. If we aim to
win, it’ll be easier for us.”

Rafa also commented on claims that Liverpool only won because PSV were
weakened due to injuries, recalling one of the earlier meetings with
them this season: “We played against PSV with Kone and Alex playing for
them in the group stage, and we beat them 2-0.”

Away from this season’s Champions League is the need to ensure a top
four league finish and a place in next season’s qualifying stages. The
three points on Saturday helped Liverpool towards that goal, with the
added bonus that Arsenal lost that day, and only drew yesterday in what
was their game-in-hand. Now Liverpool are ahead of Arsenal after
playing the same number of games and their fate is in their own hands.
Rafa wants to keep winning so that the top-four spot is assured as
early as it can be: “It’s clear that if we win more games as quickly as
possible, we can get that top four finish and then focus on the
Champions League. If we can keep the momentum then we will be fine.”

And to all those who mocked Rafa for his squad rotation over the course
of the season, there is a message from the boss that it does now seem
to be paying off: “The team is physically in good shape now. People
talk about the rotation policy, but now you can see the difference in
the players.”