'I love the club, I love the fans, I want to stay,' says Benitez

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The Independent Online

He avoided a potentially humiliating FA Cup third round exit at the hands of Luton Town yesterday and Rafael Benitez came out fighting over the latest reports that his relationship with Liverpool's owners has reached breaking point. "I love this club and I want to stay," was Benitez's latest tetchy defence.

The Liverpool manager made eight changes yesterday from the team that drew with Wigan on Wednesday but it was his long-term future at the club that was the most pertinent issue. After suggestions that he believed he would be sacked before the end of the season by the club's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jnr, the Liverpool manager maintained that he would be staying.

Twice the Liverpool manager repeated the mantra: "I love the club, I love the fans, I want to stay. I have two more years on my contract and if I could stay more than those two years I would be happy. Finish." In a darker mood, Benitez said that he did not require any more affirmation from the club's owners: "I need to ask them every day?" he asked plaintively.

The troubled relationship will play out this month when Benitez attempts to sign a centre-back in the transfer window. Having originally been told last month that he would not be able to bring in any players, Benitez has said he is hopeful of making at least one signing. With Steven Gerrard injured and Fernando Torres, Jose Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Harry Kewell and Javier Mascherano who came off the bench all left out of the first XI, Benitez denied he had been complacent in picking this team for the FA Cup third round.

"In terms of the work rate I'm happy with the team," he said, "in terms of the performance we could have played better."

While Luton's Chris Coyne said afterwards that perhaps Liverpool might show his club more respect at Anfield on 15 January, Benitez said that his team had been good enough to win. "When you play Peter Crouch, the centre-forward of the England team; Yossi Benayoun, an international; Dirk Kuyt, who plays for his national team then you are giving the other team the message: 'Watch out, we have good players'."

On the own goal from John Arne Riise that earned Luton a replay, Benitez said: "After we scored we should have had the experience to control the rest of the game. From that point of view it was disappointing."

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