23 February 2008

Now league victory a must for Liverpool

James Ducker

Having overcome Inter Milan this week, it would probably be symptomatic of Rafael BenÍtez’s reign if Liverpool were brought back down to earth with a bump at home to Middlesbrough in the Barclays Premier League today, but the manager is confident that his players will rise to the occasion.
With Everton and Manchester City not in action until Monday, and Aston Villa playing Reading tomorrow, Liverpool will move back into fourth position if they beat Gareth Southgate’s team, with victory a virtual necessity after five draws and one defeat in their past seven league matches.
“We know we need to improve in the Premier League and be more consistent, especially at home,” BenÍtez said. “People have been talking about it a lot and we agree with them. We have four league games now before we play Inter Milan again [in the second leg of their Champions League first knockout round tie] so our priority is to win all of those games and get back into the top four, which is really important not just for the club but for me and the players.”
BenÍtez spoke again yesterday of the support he has received from Tom Hicks, Liverpool’s embattled American co-owner, although having seemingly overcome one rift, the manager is already having to defuse talk of another, this time with a player.
Xabi Alonso is rumoured to have fallen out with BenÍtez after struggling to regain his place after long spells out injured, but the manager denied the suggestions and insisted that the Spain midfield player would not be leaving the club in the summer having signed a new five-year deal last June. He has made only 14 appearances this season and is fourth in the midfield pecking order behind Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva.
“I was talking to Xabi’s agent this week,” BenÍtez said. “Because of the things in the English and Spanish press, I told him Xabi will be here for the future because he has renewed his contract and is a key player for us.”

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