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Jan 16, 2010

Rafa Benitez: Even Bill Shankly had tough times

Rafael Benitez has pledged to fight on as Liverpool manager despite a disastrous season to date, drawing parallels between his current plight and a trophy drought suffered by Anfield great Bill Shankly.

• Paper Round: Rafa must go
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• Six of the top Anfield contenders
• Babel's Twitter tirade

Benitez is under real pressure following an FA Cup exit at the hands of Reading in midweek as the Reds are only realistically challenging for the Europa League having been knocked out of three cup competitions and slipped off the pace in the Premier League.

Such is their predicament ahead of a tricky trip to Stoke City on Saturday, a crucial top-four finish looks in jeopardy as Manchester City, currently in fourth place, are five points away and in impressive form under new manager Roberto Mancini.

But despite intense media scrutiny and growing frustration from supporters, Benitez has appealed to the club's glorious history to remind critics that even Shankly, regarded as Liverpool's greatest manager, went without a trophy from 1966 to 1973.

"Clearly I want to fight," Benitez said. "If I signed a contract for five years it is because I want to fight. And I will fight because I'm a fighter.

"Our fans, they are very clever. They know Bill Shankly, our most famous manager in the history of the club, was a lot of years without winning. They know that the club has had good moments and bad moments.

"The proper fans, they know for years this club is a massive club and that we have won things and lost things. We are frustrated because we want to do well. Because the last year was so good, we wanted to be closer.

"I have to believe we can finish in the top four. I have the belief that we can do it, but we have to win the next game and that is what I am concentrating on. I have said before that top four is the target, but I have changed a little bit the message. We cannot be talking about long term, we have to be talking about the next game.

"To be as close as possible to the top four, we have to win against Stoke. If we win against Stoke and Tottenham, we will be closer."

Meanwhile, Fulham manager Roy Hodgson has dismissed suggestions that he could be in contention for the Liverpool job should Benitez be sacked by the Anfield hierarchy.

"I certainly don't look beyond the end of the season with Fulham. We have done pretty well so far," Hodgson said. "We are still in the Europa Cup, and are in a decent position in the league. My focus will be 100% on that.

"It's nice I'm being linked here and there, but it's not something I was aware of. We all know it's part of football. We also know the sword has two sides. One minute the sword is tapping you on your shoulder and asking you to arise, the next thing it's being used to cut your head off."

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