Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez spoke at the press-conference ahead of today’s home league clash with Middlesbrough league about priorities. According to PA Sport, Rafa received a ‘well done’ call from Tom Hicks, the relationship between the two already said to be more cordial than before, boosted further by the outstanding display against Inter Milan. There’s still the other half of that tie to play, but first the Reds have to get the league season back on track.
Rafa said: “We have clear targets. We must progress in the Champions League and we must finish in the top four, now we have as our priority the four league games we play before we go to the San Siro. We must be in the top four before we face Inter Milan. That will be a tough game but we will go there with more confidence if we are in the top four.”
As well as Middlesbrough this afternoon Liverpool also face Bolton and Newcastle before heading for Milan and will also, finally, play the game-in-hand that has been hanging over them since it was postponed in August due to the Champions League qualifiers.
Liverpool have the power in their hands to be fourth by the time that second leg is played and Rafa is confident his team know how important it is to achieve that: “The players know that we must take care of the Premier League now. Four games, all very important, are next. If we can go to Milan with four league wins under our belts, things will be much, much better. After these next four games I will be able to say whether we are favourites for fourth place. Clearly we have enough quality and confidence, but we know we must do the job properly with so many clubs chasing the same thing.”
Before the Inter game Liverpool had lost in the FA Cup, which followed a drawn game against Chelsea for the second time this season, and for the second time Liverpool deserved to win. But draws have been the problem for Liverpool this season: We could have made it easier for ourselves, so we have to start winning as soon as possible,” said the manager. “If we can beat Middlesbrough I will be able to say that our confidence was boosted by beating Inter Milan, so I will wait to see how we play in this next game. We have a lot of respect for Middlesbrough and it will be tough. We should also enjoy the memories of beating Inter Milan, but we must finish in the top four so we must start winning right now.”
Rafa feels his team have it in them to start stringing results together: “We set a club record for points in the Premier League a couple of seasons ago, so we know how to win, we know how to play and we know how to win a lot of games in a row. Very good teams lose very few games; we have only lost three in the league. What we must be is very consistent and do everything perfectly. We must approach every game with confidence because we have enough quality.”
For now it’s time to forget about Tuesday and that return game in three weeks: “We do not need to think about the Champions League for a while, we must win the next four league games and that will make things look very differently. Nobody can say anything about the work rate of our players, our supporters can see this. That is very positive and we must build on that.”
Reports are now linking midfielder Xabi Alonso with an end-of-season move back to his home country. The reports claim Alonso is concerned that he now seems to be fourth choice for two positions and wants to go somewhere where he’ll get to play regularly. But whether or not the reports are true, Rafa isn’t ready to part with him yet. He wants Xabi to fight for a place: “When you have a big squad, it is impossible to play every game. But Xabi is a key player for us, with quality, and he must compete for his position. I was talking with his agent this week; I have also heard the rumours about him going somewhere else. But he is a player we want for us, for our future.”
Rafa let Momo Sissoko go, but is in no rush to let Xabi follow him: “He must compete for his place. We have four midfielders and it is a position I like to be in. He has re-signed a new, long, contract only recently. It is a good contract and he is important for us now and for the future.”