Benitez demands respect for two-year record at Anfield

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The Independent Football

Proud reputations, and not merely first place in Group C, appeared to be at stake for the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, yesterday as he prepared for the Champions' League visit of PSV Eindhoven by launching a staunch defence of his two-year reign at Anfield.

Detractors and a director have found a plentiful supply of ammunition to throw at the Spaniard of late as Liverpool's anticipated challenge for the Premiership title failed to materialise beyond the pre-season supplements and a lament-able away record stretched to a seventh League game without victory at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Yet it was not without foundation that Benitez called for more respect and perspective ahead of tonight's European release against the Dutch league leaders, bristling: "I'm not happy with the table, but you would think we were having a terrible time."

Liverpool are, lest we forget, the first English team to qualify for the Champions' League knock-out phase this season, in the Carling Cup quarter-final and separated from third-placed Portsmouth by only five points. No one at the club can disguise the misery of stumbling in the League yet again, least of all Benitez, but it was with absolute faith in his methods that the twice Spanish title winner highlighted an honours' list that has overshadowed both Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsenal's Arsène Wenger in the two years since he arrived from Valencia.

"If you analyse the leagues in Europe, normally only the top teams with a lot of money win trophies. The rest just try," said Benitez. "In the last two years we have won four trophies, including the most important in the world, the Champions' League. A lot of managers at top clubs do not have the Champions' League in their cabinet.

"We won 12 games in a row, kept 33 clean sheets and won 82 points in the Premiership last season so we know how to win and play well in the League. It is difficult for foreign managers to adapt to the Premiership but not a lot of managers can say they have won four trophies in two seasons. Chelsea, with two Premierships, the Carling Cup and the Community Shield, are the only ones.

"I don't know how many English managers have been abroad - Toshack, Kendall - but it is not easy. So to win the Champions' League with a new team, another language and a new style of life, is very pleasing for me. "

Benitez insists he will not ring the changes against PSV, with Saturday's home game against Manchester City in mind, as he can exploit home advantage tonight. "I'd prefer to finish the task of winning the group at Anfield rather than go to Galatasaray to do it," he said.

Liverpool (probable 4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise; Gerrard, Alonso, Zenden, Gonzalez; Garcia, Crouch.

PSV Eindhoven (probable 4-2-3-1): Gomes; Kromkamp, Alex, Reiziger, Salcido; Cocu, Mendez; Simons, Afellay, Farfan; Kone.

Referee: D Messina (Italy).

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