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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep 11, 2006

Benitez keeps faith with derby flops

Rafael Benitez arrived in Eindhoven on Monday with a giant derby day hangover but the Liverpool boss is prepared to back the players who failed so spectacularly against Everton.

The Reds open their Champions League Group C account against PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday and Benitez has issued a veiled warning that his side's defending must improve.

Saturday's 204th Mersey derby mauling will dominate Liverpool's thought here in Holland, where they will run into former player Jan Kromkamp, as well as Ronald Koeman - the manager who plotted their downfall in this competition last season while he was in charge of Benfica.

But the players who were most at fault in the 3-0 humbling at Goodison Park are the ones Benitez seems certain to thrust into the European arena with his full support.

Goalkeeper Jose Reina has been pilloried for yet another high-profile howler while Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and Steve Finnan have come in for plenty of flack.

Of those, maybe only Finnish centre back Hyypia could face losing his place to young Dane Daniel Agger.

Benitez was quick to defend his players, in particular Reina.

The Spanish 'keeper has been blamed for two mistakes in last season's FA Cup Final against West Ham, then against the same opposition recently at Anfield.

So to compound all that with the comedy of errors that gave Andrew Johnson his second goal at the weekend has focused the spotlight intensely on him.

Benitez said: 'I have a lot of confidence in Pepe Reina, especially after 33 clean sheets last season. He took the record for clean sheets in a season from Ray Clemence.

'Ask our fans who has been the best Liverpool goalkeeper of all time, and they would say Ray Clemence. So that says a lot about Reina.

'I do not want to blame individual players, there were others to who made mistakes, and also the manager.

'I have talked to Pepe about the third goal. He says he was thinking ahead, thinking where he was going to throw the ball, and he lost concentration and sight of the ball. What happens was terrible.

'He felt he could have done better with the first and second goals, but I told him `no', they were not his fault. But it is still important that a player wants to improve, and Pepe does.

'He is a player who wants to analyse every game and he is very keen trying to improve even small details. For me that is the key to progression.

'The only way to solve errors and mistakes is to get out on the pitch straight away, and that is the chance we have here.'

But a frustrated Benitez admits to being shocked by the level of performance against Everton.

He said: 'I must admit that I was surprised by what happened on Saturday, we made a lot of mistakes. You can look back at preparation, at injuries, try to explain.

'But I was surprised. We worked with the defenders a lot last week and we made mistakes that were not normal.

'We had confidence in ourselves before the game and we still have confidence, but it is always important to know what you are doing that is bad.

'We had problems and there were small details that went wrong - it was not the performance I expected.'

The challenge now is for the players to put things right against an experienced PSV side, who fancy their chances now they have seen the kind of mistakes on show at Goodison.

Benitez said: 'When we have had an important defeat by big rivals, you must work hard to rectify the mistakes. How can you do that? Well it's about playing and working.

'We must keep going forward while making sure the mistakes do not happen again.

'I've had better weekends at Liverpool than the last one. But things can change, we have a very important game to be able to get the bad result out of our system.

'Many teams cannot say they can do that with a Champions League match, but we can and we will make use of it.

'It is our aim to give our fans some good news now to change their feelings of disappointment.'

He added: 'PSV are strong, experienced and with an experienced manager. Jan Kromkamp will be playing, and also I remember Benfica when Ronald Koeman was there then. They beat us last season and we need to rectify that memory.

'The group is dangerous, Bordeaux and Galatasaray are both good sides. If we play like we did last season, qualification is achievable but we need to solve our problems.'