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Friday, 23 February 2007


Steve Hunter 24 February 2007
Rafael Benitez talks to Liverpoolfc.tv about the fantastic win in Barcelona and looks forward to this afternoon's Premiership meeting with Sheffield United. Read the Q and A now.
Liverpoolfc.tv: Rafa you've had some momentous weeks as Liverpool manager, how would you rate the one you've just lived through?

Rafael Benitez: It has been a very good week for us but we remain calm and are not getting carried away.

I know it's only half-time against Barcelona but I remember when the draw was made you had confidence and you had belief because you had won before at the Nou Camp. Your team followed in that mould didn't they?

We had confidence and I remember I said let's wait two months because all the Spanish press were saying Liverpool had no chance. Now they say they were surprised because Liverpool was really good. We must be really happy but we also need to be careful because Barcelona are a really good team and they can play really well away from home.

How pleased have you been with the way Craig Bellamy has conducted himself since all the furore of the Portugese training camp incident?

I said before the game the atmosphere between the players was good and the training was almost perfect. Okay we had a problem but the players understand they made a mistake and I told them we need to go forward and concentrate on this match, and during the game all of the players were really focused.

There was a sense of satisfaction for Craig with what had been written about him and he was almost putting the record straight when he scored and made the other goal?

I don't like to talk about one individual but all of them were really good and they wanted to show people they could play well. The atmosphere is really good between the players and you could see that when Bellamy set up Riise's goal and all the team celebrated together.

Have you managed to pinpoint any more areas you could possibly exploit from Barcelona when you meet them again in two week's time and will you watch the match video about 100 times?

No I haven't got the time because we are looking ahead to Sheffield United now. We are analysing and talking about these things with the staff.

Were they as formidable as some people had made them out to be as some people in Spain are saying they didn't play anywhere near their capabilities. From a manager's prospective you will no more than most so how did Barcelona approach that game?

If you analyse the game the first 10 minutes we started really well. After we had problems and talking with some friends they said they thought it would have been 5-0 after they scored the first goal. After we were mentally strong, especially the second half. For me we need to analyse the things we weren't doing properly in the first half.

From Barcelona to Sheffield United, how much of a different challenge does that represent?

To play in the Champions League especially against a top side like Barcelona and then to play in the Premiership, it's a different kind of football and everything is different. We know this is a really important game for us because we want to finish as near to the top of the table as we can. We must change our minds quickly and be ready. We won't be 100 per cent fit but we need to use all of the players in our squad and we have a very good group of players ready for this game.

How much did the Barcelona game take out of the players the other night, not just physically but mentally?

Mentally I think the players are very good but the problem is physically. We need to be ready physically and we need to start the game well against Sheffield.

When you can win in the Nou Camp away at Barcelona does it frustrate you as a manager when you can't win at St James' Park and you can't beat Everton?

It's a different game. Against Barcelona we didn't have a lot of chances but we did control the game in the second half. Against Newcastle we had three or four clear chances and sometimes it depends on the luck. Against Everton we had plenty of possession and even though we didn't create many chances we controlled the game. I want to see us take our chances against Sheffield.

What have you made of Sheffield United because the experts at the start of the season said they were nailed on certainties to be relegated?

You need to know the teams and how they work and then you can talk. To talk too early is easy in football. People were talking about the problems with Liverpool and Barcelona before our match and saying which team will be in a worse position. I said let's wait for the match then after you will see. It's easy to talk too early and too soon and for me it's clear that Sheffield United has a very good team spirit. That can be the key sometimes having a good team spirit and it's not just about good players.

How close is Javier Mascherano to making his first Liverpool appearance?

He's in the squad tomorrow and he will have possibilities. We have to see about the physical condition of the players. When you ask them if they are fit, they will all say yes. I need to take a look at each one.

It's been a difficult time for him with what he's had to deal with. How has he turned that into concentration and focus to prove himself?

If you had an English player in the national team at the age of 22, you'd all be saying he is a very good player. Mascherano has 22 caps for Argentina and he is only 22. For me, that shows the mentality, character, quality and personality of this player. Javier is training really hard. It's not been easy for him; he's a young player, but he's happy now and he's desperate to play. I think he can do well – he has the game intelligence we are looking for. Also, he can play with players with quality like Zenden, Sissoko, Alonso and Gerrard – I think this can be a help to him. He can give us balance and be a holding midfielder. I can talk to him in Spanish and I remember him when he played for the reserve team in River Plate. I was talking with manager's he has played for and all of them said good things about him. He is a good player and we know the things he can do on the pitch and I have confidence in him.

He didn't really settle at West Ham and he feels he can settle in a lot more here at Liverpool?

We know the things he can do and the things he can improve on. I hope he will be a good signing for us as I know we have signed a very good professional and a nice boy.

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