Benitez calls for 'realism' at Liverpool

Rafael Benitez has for the first time played down Liverpool's title dreams and asked for "realism" as the club fight to end a run of disastrous results.

Liverpool are 11 points behind leaders Chelsea following last night's 2-2 home draw with Birmingham.

Benitez's side have won only one of their last nine matches in all competitions, and just one of their last five in the Barclays Premier League.

It has left them with a mountain to climb if they believe they can catch Chelsea, when the more realistic target now is surely to retain their place in the top four and achieve Champions League qualification for next season.

Benitez said after the draw with the midlanders: "We have to be realistic and think what our target is now. For me it is just the next game, the next point to see whether we can climb a little higher in the table.

"Then you never know what can happen. We did win six games in a row, if we did that again everything would be different.

"The main thing now is to get players fit, and see who we have available for the next game after the international break.

"We will then wait for some months to pass and see whether we can win some games in succession. That is all I am looking at now."

Benitez has always talked of the big clubs losing more matches this season, which would allow Liverpool to keep in contact despite their nightmare form.

The Spaniard added: "People keep discussing our bad run, but previously we won six on the trot and we have beaten Manchester United.

"It is a question of keeping going. I would be really worried if we were not playing well and not winning. But I can see that we are beginning to play better, it is a question of luck now.

"Maybe people think that I am angry about all this. But when I see the players working so hard, trying to change our situation, there is nothing more to say to them, they are doing all they can.

"This is the only way to change our situation. To keep working hard and play well, and I believe we did play well against Birmingham."

Benitez has more injury problems involving Yossi Benayoun, Daniel Agger and Albert Riera, while Fernando Torres could be out for a further three weeks, which would rule him out against Manchester City and Everton in the league and the Champions League tie away to Debrecen.

He continued: "We are talking of two or three weeks out now for Fernando. The hamstrings for Riera and Benayoun could be the same and Agger has more problems with his back.

"He has worked hard in training, and we felt he would be okay for the match. But you could see that he was not right.

"The plus points are that Glen Johnson was back and playing well, while Alberto Aquilani finally got a chance to play at Anfield.

"Steven Gerrard looked okay after his groin problems, physically he was fine. We will have to see how the injury reacts but he brought us quality and passion, and I hope that we can now manage his problems better."

Birmingham boss Alex McLeish had sympathy for Benitez if not David Ngog's part in the controversial penalty equaliser, the French under-21 striker being accused of diving.

McLeish said: "Liverpool are missing key players, world-class people like Torres and Gerrard. Any team is affected when they lose their best players.

"There is not a lot of understanding in the game when you lose people like that, it is the football life managers are in and you have to accept that.

"But you must rise above the storm, I have been through the same and you have to bounce back.

"Benitez is a top manager with plenty of medals to his name. I am sure he will also bounce back."

On Ngog's plunge in the box, McLeish said: "I know it wasn't a penalty, the guy dived and got his team a penalty. He saw Lee Carsley coming in and instead of hurdling the challenge he has just gone down.

"Should it be a penalty if you don't touch somebody and make the guy fall? I don't really know, but the game will go down hill fast if we give penalties for that."

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