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The Premier League sack race

Manager Watch less than a minute ago
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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep 19, 2006

Benitez not worried by Liverpool's early season form

Rafael Benitez is refusing to panic amid the criticism that has accompanied Liverpool's poor start to the Premiership season.

The Reds boss sends his team into action against Newcastle tomorrow sitting uncomfortably in 15th spot, having suffered two defeats already and knowing they will drop even further if the Magpies can record their first league win at Anfield since 1994.

Having begun the campaign with such high hopes of mounting a sustained challenge to champions Chelsea, Liverpool's title aspirations are already being written off in some quarters.

Yet, Benitez is refusing to be deflected from the bigger picture and insists his side will eventually come good.

'Yes, we would have liked more points but there is nothing we can do to change the table now,' he said.

'There is no sense of panic. I have seen the squad in training. I know their qualities and I know we need to remain calm.

'We all want to win every game and be at the top of the table from the beginning until the end.

'But you also need to think about the season, the number of games and the number of competitions.

'For small clubs, maybe it is enough to say we beat this particular club.

'It is not the same for the big clubs. We want to win trophies and you cannot win the league in the first week of the season, you need to wait until the end.'

Benitez is bemused the logic of some pundits' claims Liverpool cannot win the championship from their current position - eight points adrift of Manchester United and Chelsea - while Arsenal can, even though the Gunners are only a point better off.

The Spaniard's continued optimism for the campaign ahead is reinforced by a belief neither Chelsea, nor anyone else, will run away with the title in the manner of recent seasons.

That all the big four have lost at least once so far suggests his theory will be proven correct.

'It will be different this year,' he said.

'I do think Chelsea will drop more points. A lot of teams have improved from last year and things can change suddenly every week.'

Benitez defended himself against allegations of excessive tinkering, even though it is now 92 games since he last named an unchanged side.

Like so many of the top bosses, he has experienced difficulty in moulding together a squad left exhausted by the World Cup and bemoaned the additional complication of a Champions League qualifier.

'We could not train properly for 15 days in pre-season because of the Champions League games,' he said.

'All I can do is pick the players who are the fittest. We have enough quality in the squad, we just need to manage it.

'I have done exactly the same in the last two seasons during which time we reached the Champions League final and the FA Cup Final, and won them both.'

On neither occasion was skipper Steven Gerrard deployed on the left-hand side of midfield, although it appears that is where he might have to get used to playing just now.

With Benitez apparently settled on Xabi Alonso and Mohamed Sissoko as his first-choice central midfield partnership and Jermaine Pennant providing added pace down the right, Gerrard was switched to the left for the weekend defeat at Chelsea even though the midfielder has made it perfectly clear his preferred spot is in the middle.

'Steven is happier playing in the middle and we know that but I cannot put Xabi or Momo on the wing,' observed Benitez.

'If they are playing well, we know Steven has a lot of quality and we can use him in another position, on the right, the left, or behind the main striker - that will benefit the team.

'Zinedine Zidane played on the left many times even though he preferred to play just behind the strikers and Ronaldinho plays on the right, even though he would prefer to be behind the strikers too.

'That's how it is with good players. They can play in any position. Steven is our captain and he knows that.'