Benitez puts brave face on Reds’ fading title prospects

AFP , LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND

Tue, Mar 03, 2009 - Page 18

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has brushed aside his side’s Premier League title decline by insisting that finishing second will still be an achievement.

Liverpool entertain Sunderland at Anfield today with their hopes of winning the championship for the first time since 1990 in tatters after Saturday’s 2-0 reverse at Middlesbrough.

Having topped the table at the start of January, Benitez’s side now trail leaders Manchester United by seven points after winning just two of their last seven games.

They have also played one game more than Sir Alex Ferguson’s defending champions and are down to third in the table.

Yet Benitez has tried to put a brave face on Liverpool’s domestic capitulation by claiming that finishing second will not be a disaster and instead will be a sign of the club moving forward under his leadership having finished fourth last season.

“Second would still be an achievement, but we have to think about getting three points against Sunderland and then our position because where we will finish will depend on United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Aston Villa,” said Liverpool’s Spanish manager.

“We just have to keep doing our job. We just have to keep trying to improve,” he said.

“We can talk about positions, but at the end of the day we just have to win the next game,” Benitez said.

“Middlesbrough was a game which normally we would think we could win, but now we think it was a bad day, bad result and the next one must give us another chance,” he said.

Despite having one foot in the last eight of the Champions League after establishing a one-goal first leg lead in Spain against Real Madrid, Liverpool’s erratic league form has raised doubts whether they will even finish in the top two.

Today’s match is their final league game before hosting Real in the second leg at Anfield on March 10. Their next league game after Sunderland is away to Manchester United on March 14.

“Before the [Middlesbrough] game it was difficult and now it will be more difficult [to win the title],” Benitez said. “We have to think about Sunderland and wait to see if United make mistakes or not.”