Benitez focused on victory

It has not been a week Rafael Benitez will care to remember, but Tom Hicks's revelations about his pursuit of Jürgen Klinsmann has strengthened team spirit, the Liverpool manager said yesterday.

"It may have brought everyone closer together, for sure," said Benitez, who also revealed that there has been no conversation between him and Hicks since Sunday's disclosures, and that before training with the players there had been made only a brief mention of the seemingly uncertain future at Anfield of Hicks and his co-owner, George Gillett.

Though Hicks issued a statement late on Thursday denying that he and Gillett were about to sell up, Dubai International Capital (DIC), the investment arm of the Dubai government, is circling the club, raising doubts about Hicks's future at Anfield and the prospect of DIC making a bid.

Benitez, who hinted that he had been aware of the Klinsmann talks before Hicks brought them up on Sunday, said that the issue of Hicks's statement had been raised by his players. "The other situation comes up briefly, but not too much," he said. "But usually I am in my office preparing the training, and maybe five minutes before I'll go and speak to the injured players and then go out on to the pitch and talk about the next game."

Benitez insisted that comments made by both Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher – that players had to deliver for the club more than for the manager in circumstances like this – were no reflection of his relationship with them.

"The players and I have a fantastic relationship," said Benitez, who earlier in the week declined the opportunity to attend the club's delayed Christmas party at which Carragher went dressed as Welsh reality television show loser Rhydian, and Lucas Leiva as Geri Halliwell.

"At Liverpool, the most important thing is the club," he said. "I like to see my players winning games, because it is for the supporters and for the club. When you talk about the club, you talk about a lot of people around the club as well as the fans."

Benitez acknowledged that improved performances, starting when Liverpool play host to Aston Villa on Monday, may help to shift attention away from the club."If we can keep the team winning, it will be easier, because then people will talk about a Gerrard hat-trick or Carra playing 501 games."

Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa will be looking for a win that could blow wide open the race for fourth spot in the Premier League. By kick-off, Liverpool are likely to be even further adrift of the top three, who all play teams in the bottom half of the table – Reading, Fulham and Birmingham respectively – today.

Benitez said: "The team needs to talk on the pitch. And it is important for me to do the best for my club. It is simple. We try to win and we prepare the best way we can, all the time. The fans saw character and quality this week from the players. You cannot say that things off the pitch do not affect people – it is really difficult."

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