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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 16, 2007

Benitez ready for talks as Sir Alex celebrates

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is confident the Anfield outfit's 1-0 home defeat to Manchester United will have no effect on his clear-the-air talks with co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The American duo sat in the directors' box as Liverpool surrendered their unbeaten home record to Carlos Tevez's first-half strike, which saw them fall nine points adrift of their fierce north-west rivals.

It is hardly the ideal backdrop for Benitez to enter key negotiations over his transfer budget and to smooth relations after a recent row with Hicks over the delay in moving for new players.

However, a failure to make any headway against a United defence marshalled superbly by Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic emphasised shortcomings Benitez has always believed would need addressing when the January transfer window opens. So, in that sense, the defeat could actually work to the Spaniard's advantage.

'It is a meeting for talking about the future, not just one game,' said Benitez. 'We will try to clarify the misunderstanding and we need to clarify the situation for the future but not about money.

'It is just to know what position we are in now and I go into it with confidence.'

One of Benitez's main frustrations appears to be that having got close to concluding a permanent deal for midfielder Javier Mascherano, talks have now stalled amid supposed intransigence from across the Atlantic.

Whether the delay is real or imagined is soon to be determined, although until then Benitez does not want to talk about specifics.

'It is important to clarify the situation now - maybe afterwards we will talk about names,' he observed.

The Liverpool supporters certainly remain right behind their man, even though it is now six seasons since their team last beat United in the Premier League on home soil.

Tevez's effort, towards the end of an opening period Liverpool had dominated, was converted from almost exactly the same spot John O'Shea scored the Red Devils' winner in the corresponding fixture last term.

It was a hammer blow from the South American, and one Liverpool were unable to fight back from, although Benitez refuses to believe the Merseysiders' unenviable position in the title races provides an insurmountable challenge.

'It is too soon to talk about the title,' he said. 'Clearly, it will be harder. If we are going to get closer we need to start winning some games in a row.

'Every team can lose points, so I have the same confidence to keep going and try and keep winning.

'We are a team that has a lot of positives but this defeat is frustrating because we are very close to Manchester United. We just made one mistake and paid for it, just as we did last season.'

Liverpool's mistake was a failure to pick up Wayne Rooney at a Ryan Giggs corner. Rooney's shot was going wide until Tevez turned it in. But, although the hosts had plenty of pressure, it became increasingly difficult to imagine they would come any closer than the two goalbound efforts kicked off the line by Anderson, who continues to impress, and Patrice Evra prior to Tevez's winner.

Although his side failed to carve out many chances, Sir Alex Ferguson felt they were worth their victory.

With referee Mark Halsey awarding Liverpool a series of free-kicks, including one just outside the box in stoppage time which Steve Gerrard fired just over, the United manager could never rest easy though.

'There was a massive amount of free-kicks, probably a record,' said Ferguson. 'When a team gets so many you always worry that one is eventually going to go in. When they got that one just outside the area in injury time, I thought they were going to score.

'But we held firm and got a result we deserved.'

Ferguson has always felt able to identify likely title contenders from the league standings on January 1.

After so long in the game, it is not a philosophy he is about to abandon. And, after collecting seven points in three games against the remainder of the `big four' he feels confident in United's ability to secure back-to-back crowns.

'Any gap is a significant one in December,' he said.

'I always think it is important once you get to the end of the month to be up there.

'If we are around the top on January 1 we will have a real chance of winning the league and we will also know who our challengers are going to be.'