Benitez opts to blank team for lack of 'intelligence'

Full-back reveals manager's silent treatment and admits pressure is beginning to tell
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The Independent Football

After the defeat in Florence that triggered Liverpool's worst sequence of losses in 22 years, Fabio Aurelio said that Rafael Benitez had been as angry as he had ever seen his manager. On Tuesday night, in the wake of his fourth straight defeat, Benitez chose to say nothing to his players.

Perhaps it was because there was little the Liverpool manager could say. Shorn of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Glen Johnson and Albert Riera through injury, the problems besetting his team is one of basic ability, rather than motivation or the skill to implement a tactical plan.

Perhaps he was unconsciously following the advice of Jock Stein, who told a young Alex Ferguson that a dressing-room after a defeat was neither the time nor the place to make big statements to footballers. That, said Stein, should wait a day until you had calmed down – and in his post-match press conference Benitez looked subdued, almost shocked by Lyons' late winner.

"He did not speak to us at all," Aurelio said. "Everything was very quiet after a bad result for us. It is not unusual for him to say nothing. Sometimes, players are cooling down and not everyone is in the dressing room at the same time. Sometimes, he has a chance to do it, sometimes not."

In the raw light of day, it was a close-run defeat to Lyons but it was still a defeat, which in Javier Mascherano's words, Liverpool had lacked "intelligence" when it mattered. And with only Torres and Johnson of Benitez's absentees likely to be fit to face Manchester United on Sunday both the injury and the fixture list is daunting.

Benitez did not have to tell his squad that should they lose to United and go down to Lyons in the Stade Gerland, they will be almost out of the title race and virtually eliminated from the Champions League with a little more than a quarter of the season gone. Their Carling Cup fixture at Arsenal next Wednesday is now rather more than a sideshow.

"The next two games are very important for us," Aurelio agreed. "Arsenal could see us go out of the cup while United are seven points clear already – and it could be 10 if they win. That is not what we wanted at the start of the season. We have to close that gap and keep getting closer to them.

"Everyone is aware that when you are in this situation – a big team losing four games in a row – the anxiety is there. That is why we need to win the next game against Manchester United; to get our confidence back and start going on a good run.

"The pressure doesn't affect the players because you know it is going to be like that. When you are not winning, you have more pressure on you than when you are winning and we have to deal with that."

Benitez has long excelled when pushed into a tight corner. Liverpool are two points better off in the Champions League than they were two years ago when Benitez orchestrated three straight wins to drive them into the knockout stages. Aurelio was with Benitez at Valencia, where in December 2001 he launched an even more dramatic recovery to begin a charge towards his first La Liga title.

"He was in a very bad situation in the middle of the season," Aurelio reflected. "The team was not doing well, we were losing games and the press were saying that if Valencia lost at Espanyol, he could be sacked. We were two down at half-time but we recovered to win 3-2, went on a good run and finished up winning the league." Benitez lost his playmaker, Pablo Aimar, after six minutes in that game and Valencia finished the game with 10 men following Mauricio Pellegrino's dismissal.

"It was not the start everyone expected, we knew we were in a difficult situation," Aurelio said, remembering the way Valencia recovered. "But we knew we had no alternative but to win these games. That kind of situation focuses your thoughts on your team-mates, your coach and the club. Liverpool also are a club that needs to be winning games."