herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

No room for error: Rafa

LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez admits his side cannot afford any more mistakes in their battle to secure Champions League football next season.

Having struggled in a goalless draw against Manchester City the previous week the Reds allowed Blackburn back into the match last Sunday before Fernando Torres struck the winner in the 2-1 victory.

This weekend none of their main rivals for a top-four place are in Premier League action – Tottenham and Aston Villa have FA Cup quarter-finals.

A victory at Wigan on Monday would take Liverpool back to fourth, albeit having played one match more than Spurs, two more than City and three more than Villa.

Those statistics show just how fragile their the grip on fourth place is – and why Benitez is anxious to avoid any more mishaps. “Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa will be very dangerous so we cannot make many mistakes,” said the Spaniard.

“We know last year was really good in terms of points in the league (86) and now we are in a different and more difficult situation because the expectations were very high.

“It is really difficult because we have three or four teams really close.” Liverpool have lost just once in the league in their last 10 matches and Benitez knows that form must continue.

“We have to keep this momentum and prove, show everyone else, we are good enough,” he added. “I prefer to be positive and we will play well and continue to win.”

A match on Monday raises hopes defender Glen Johnson could make his long-awaited return from a knee injury, which has kept him out since the end of December.

COMEBACK

With Martin Skrtel's broken foot ruling him out for two months, fellow centreback Daniel Agger troubled by a knee problem sustained against Blackburn, and Fabio Aurelio sidelined for three weeks with a thigh injury, defensive resources are thin.

Central defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos returns after suspension but a comeback for Johnson would be timely. “We had problems on the right side (against Blackburn) with Mascherano playing full-back, which was a difficult decision,” admitted Benitez.

“All the teams have good and bad moments but they still have to carry on and go forward. “If you analyse some games we have had too many injuries with big names unable to play.”

One of the less-celebrated – but more promising – names is young Spanish forward Daniel Pacheco. He has broken into the first team this season, making three appearances, but with Liverpool's fortunes so precarious his chances of getting an extended run are unlikely.

The 19-year-old insists he still has plenty of work to do and is happy to bide his time. “I am working hard in the gym to improve my physical side and try to be stronger in the next few years,” he said.

“I have to be patient and keep working hard. It's not easy to play in the first team at this great club.

“You have to be focused every day in training and then when the chance comes I have to be ready.

“It's important we beat Wigan on Monday and we then have the Europa League when we play Lille, which will be another tough game.

“I have to be ready if the manager needs me.”

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