Rafa Benitez: FA Cup run would lift Liverpool
Rafael Benitez sees Liverpool's FA Cup tie at Reading as another stepping stone on the road to salvaging their season.
Their dismal form before Christmas saw an early exit from the Champions League, while they slipped to a league position that seriously threatens any chance of a return to Europe's elite competition next season. But back-to-back victories over the festive season have been grasped at by Benitez as proof that the situation at Anfield is improving.
''The feeling after the win at Aston Villa this week was really good, it can only improve confidence,'' he said. ''After the way things had been going, we needed to start winning some games in a row. We have now won twice on the trot in the league against Wolves and Villa over Christmas and are aiming to add to that run against Reading.
''We had been very close to some good form, but the confidence is now really high so hopefully we can continue in this way with the same mentality.''
The real prize for Benitez, though, is still a top four finish, so a run of victories to keep form and confidence high is imperative.
He said: ''It will be very difficult for us to finish in the top four: Spurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa are all pushing very hard for fourth place. We have to keep working and keep going right to the end. We know there will be difficulties, but we must keep our confidence and add to the two wins in two games we achieved over Christmas.
''Now it is the perfect time to go on a winning run, and a victory and good performance at Reading will add to our growing confidence. We had to win one, then two and now we want three. If we do that before we face Spurs at Anfield in our next league game, it will be a real boost to our confidence.''
Benitez promises a strong side at the Madejski stadium, and that suggests that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres will be involved.
He said: ''The FA Cup is always important, but when you are out of the Champions League it becomes a major trophy. Our fans are still thinking of winning silverware this season, so that means the FA Cup. It is a very important competition for us now.
''We must look at our squad and decide what we are going to do at Reading. We have more training sessions to see how they are, but because the competition has added importance now maybe we will not change too many players.
''We know we are facing Spurs eight days later, but that does give us more time to get players fit so we can field a strong team at Reading.''
Mindful of his experience in losing at Burnley in his first taste of the FA Cup as Liverpool manager, Benitez added: ''We cannot underestimate Reading. It is something you must be very careful about in the FA Cup.
''They are at a difficult time, having just changed their manager. They are looking to improve and they will be difficult for us. They have players with Premier League experience, and they are working hard as a team.''