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Jan 19, 2010

Benitez goes on the defensive

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has launched a staunch defence of his record at the club as speculation about his future refuses to die down, claiming that he has transformed the Anfield club from a "six (out of 10) to an eight or nine".

• Mascherano defends Benitez
• Babel back in contention
• Torres calls for Villa or Silva signing

The Spanish boss insists there have been huge improvements since he took over in the summer of 2004 and that has restored pride among the staff and fans.

"The difference between the club before and now is massive in terms of money, the value of the squad and the pride of the fans,'' the Liverpool boss said.

"When I arrived here the club needed to win and the people had been talking about [winning] the championship for 19 years.

"We won the Champions League (in Benitez's first season) after 21 years and we are the only club in England that has the trophy [to keep] for five wins. As a club we have pride again and that is important.''

After challenging for the title last season it has been a difficult campaign for Liverpool with the club currently lying seventh in the Premier League, 14 points behind Chelsea. Early exits from the Champions League, Carling Cup and FA Cup have also served to plie the pressure on Benitez.

Should the club not qualify for next season's Champions League his position would become increasingly fragile and the names of potential candidates for his job are already cropping up.

Along with the likes of Russia coach Guus Hiddink and Inter Milan's former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, there appears to be a growing campaign for Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish to be involved in a more hands-on role to help Benitez out of their current difficulties.

The Scot, a former Reds playing hero and the last Liverpool manager to win the title back in 1990, is currently occupied with overseeing the club's academy. Benitez admitted he has spoken to Dalglish about the fortunes of the club but it was in relation to a long-term strategy and not in regard to their recent troubles.

"We talk sometimes but he is with the academy so we talk about how the players are doing there but the other day was just a short conversation,''Benitez said.

"But we were talking the other day and it was interesting because we were talking about football and how the club was improving and the difficulty of going one step forward at this level.

"We were speaking about taking short steps. That is the difference between being at the level we are now and being a little bit better.

"This shorter step is the most difficult. It is true we have improved from a six (out of 10) to an eight or nine. To go to nine/10 that is very difficult.''

A victory over Tottenham at Anfield on Wednesdaywould put them just a point behind their fourth-placed visitors and firmly back in Champions League qualification contention.

In a season which has seen numerous last-minute goals, opponents being assisted by a beach ball and his team denied by the woodwork, Benitez knows there are only fine margins involved.

Although he accepts Liverpool are not playing well, he is aware of the power a victory over Harry Redknapp's side would have.

"If we can win against Tottenham the fans will be happier and the race for fourth place will maybe be easier,'' Benitez said. The main thing now is to improve and have more confidence and the only way to do that is by winning games.

"I was really pleased with the team-work and character the team showed the other day [at Stoke]. We needed to show this character. We want to win and if we can we will try to play well but when you don't have confidence it is important to get the result each time.''

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