But Liver­pool boss says ev­ery­thing will be dif­fer­ent... if Pool beat City

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODWINES - CHRIS BRERETON

RAFAEL BEN­ITEZ be­lieves Liver­pool can kick-start their sea­son with a win over Manch­ester City at An­field to­day.

City’s lav­ishly-fi­nanced bid to climb to the peak of the Premier League has stalled due to five suc­ces­sive league draws.

But if man­ager Mark Hughes thinks he is un­der pres­sure, he should spare a thought for his op­po­site num­ber Ben­itez.

Liver­pool have grown ac­cus­tomed to mix­ing it with Europe’s best in the money-spin­ning en­vi­ron­ment of the Cham­pi­ons League.

But the wheels have come off badly this sea­son with the Reds on the verge of elim­i­na­tion from Europe’s elite com­pe­ti­tion and, even more wor­ry­ingly for the club’s own­ers, in dan­ger of fail­ing to se­cure a re­turn to it for next sea­son.

A run of one win in nine matches in all com­pe­ti­tions has seen Ben­itez se­ri­ously ques­tioned by sec­tions of the club’s fan base for the first time since he ar­rived at An­field in 2004. Fur­ther­more, with five Premier League losses al­ready this sea­son, a first do­mes­tic ti­tle since 1990 looks a re­mote prospect.

An­other home de­feat would deepen the sense of cri­sis at the club but Ben­itez main­tains the sea­son can still be turned around.

“We have to look at the big pic­ture,” the Spa­niard said. “We know we’ve had some prob­lems and we’ve made some mis­takes, but still we are so close.

“Maybe we can start the sea­son right now. Winning against City will be a big boost for every­one and if that hap­pens I’m sure we’ll see the best of the team.

“I am 100 per­cent sure ev­ery­thing will be to­tally dif­fer­ent if we can win the game against City af­ter this in­ter­na­tional break. The sea- son can be good if we do well.”

One rea­son for the club’s woes has been the ab­sence of tal­is­man Steven Ger­rard, who has played just 70 min­utes since in­jur­ing his groin play­ing for Eng­land on Oc­to­ber 10.

He was forced into action from the bench against Birm­ing­ham ear­lier this month – scor­ing a cru­cial penalty in a 2-2 draw – but will have ben­e­fited from nearly two weeks of rest dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional break.

Ger­rard said: “It took me two or three days to re­cover from that game but I have spent the past week do­ing strength­en­ing work and I’m feel­ing a lot bet­ter now. I’m looking for­ward to the week­end.”

One man who is likely to come in for bar­rack­ing from the home crowd is City mid­fielder Gareth Barry. His for­mer club As­ton Villa turned down re­peated ap­proaches for him from Ben­itez in the sum­mer of 2008 and he had been ex­pected to join Liver­pool this year only to opt for the more lu­cra­tive deal on of­fer at City.

But Barry, who has a slight sore­ness in his groin fol­low­ing his in­ter­na­tional duty with Eng­land against Brazil last week­end, is un­fazed by the propo­si­tion of play­ing on Mersey­side.

“The first part of the sea­son is al­ways tough if you have in­ter­na­tional foot­ball as well,” Barry said.

“I’ve played in a few games for Eng­land plus all the games for City, so in a way it feels like Christ­mas should be just around the cor­ner.

“But now there’s no in­ter­na­tional games un­til March, and I’m looking for­ward to get­ting a few months of solid work in with the lads here,” he said. “All every­one is think­ing about now is the Liver­pool game and tak­ing it from there if we can get a good re­sult.”

Al­berto Aquilani, the mid­fielder Ben­itez bought for £20 mil­lion as a re­place­ment for Xabi Alonso, is in con­tention for his first Liver­pool start. The Italy in­ter­na­tional has made just two sub­sti­tute ap­pear-

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