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Jan 29, 2009

Benitez questions Wigan's tactics

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insisted only a "crazy" second half against Wigan prevented his side from rejoining Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table, but also produced a thinly veiled attack on Steve Bruce's tactics.

Liverpool have now drawn seven of their last ten league games and have dropped to third in the table behind Chelsea with Aston Villa within touching distance too. The bookies share the doubts over their title credentials as they have slipped to 8/1 to lift the trophy for the first time since 1990.

With many questioning Benitez's ability to last the course following his infamous rant at Sir Alex Ferguson - they have not won a match in any competition since then - his latest comments will have done little to suggest otherwise.

Benitez bizarrely chose to replace inspriational skipper Steven Gerrard, who specialises in crucial last-ditch goals, moments after Wigan grabbed their late leveller and the Latics could have gone on to win the game with new signing Hugo Rodallega smashing the bar with a superb curling free-kick.

Benitez, who must pick his side up for a crucial meeting with Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday, said: "I am disappointed with a number of things but no, the Wigan approach I will not talk about them.

"It has happened in the last three games. They have something in common I don't like. I know why but I cannot say anything.

"The players were okay. They were working very hard in the first half but the second half changed because it was crazy.

"I was talking with my players about what to do on the pitch but there are things that you cannot control.

"When you are top of the table you know that every single game is really important so when you lose two points you have to be disappointed. But we have an important game on Sunday and if we play like we played in the first half we can beat anyone.

"All the games will be important until the end of the season. It depends on the other teams too but we have to try to play well and try to win.

"We were much better in the first half. We had control of the game. We didn't kill the game. The second half was a crazy game and when it is a crazy game you cannot control things."

Benitez insists he is philosophical in the face of the challenge posed by United.

"I am okay. You cannot change, you need to understand it has to be like this for years,'' he said. "I don't have any psychological battle with Sir Alex. He has been here for 22 years and you can see what it means.''

Last night's match did little to assure striker Robbie Keane of his future at the club.

Despite speculation about the former Tottenham striker's future Benitez said he did not expect the player to be leaving Anfield.

"I think so,'' he replied to a question about whether Keane would be staying, going on to explain the reasons behind leaving it so late to put the Irishman on.

"We had another striker with pace like Babel. It was my decision before the penalty (for Mido's equaliser) but after the penalty it was the same idea to try to use a player between the lines with good movement.

"We have to improve if we want to win these games, especially when you have the control we had in the first half.''

Yossi Benayoun, who opened the scoring just before half-time, denied the players were struggling to cope with the pressure of a title challenge.

Chelsea, who overtook Liverpool in the table on goal difference last night, are their next opponents at Anfield on Sunday and the Israel midfielder believes they are up to the test.

"There is always pressure to win games. I think we can cope with this pressure and hopefully we will prove it on Sunday,'' he said.

"We have to keep working hard to turn it around because we have drawn four games in a row (including the FA Cup tie against Everton).

"We have to try to play better and finish games. We have creative players on the pitch and we try to do our best and make sure everyone gives 100% but sometimes it is not enough.

"We expected to win those [drawn] games and be top of the league. Now we have made it a bit more difficult as Manchester United could be five points ahead if they win their game in hand.

"We have to start winning games soon. We have a very important game against Chelsea on Sunday and we have to win games if we want to try to win the league.''

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