Benitez rattled by Klinsmann's criticism

Liverpool manager puts German pundit in his place ahead of Arsenal showdown
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The Independent Online

The fog did not lift from Melwood yesterday. It made Liverpool's training ground a cold, uncomfortable place, a bit like the football club itself at the moment.

The sniping does not help and manager Rafael Benitez can be forgiven for scenting a conspiracy, given that his side have featured on the two occasions when Jürgen Klinsmann, the man sought out as his successor by Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks two years ago, has been invited into a Sky Sports studio this season. Klinsmann and Graeme Souness did not hold back in foretelling Liverpool's doom after the home defeat to Fiorentina on Wednesday night and Benitez's reply was memorably acidic when it came.

"The first time they told me about [Klinsmann], they told me that he was an expert in marketing so I was surprised to see him as an expert in football too," he said. "I switch off the volume on Sky." The TV mute button was "a very good thing". he added. "If someone talks too much, it's their problem."

An expert in marketing Benitez will never be but certainly one in need of a financier's head, as he outlined his current task of juggling long-term financial stability with short-term success, ahead of tomorrow's home game with Arsenal which if things go against them would leave Liverpool seven points adrift of Arsène Wenger's side and quite possibly six points off the top four.

Benitez sat down to talk four hours after Sir Alex Ferguson over at Carrington had declared that "the money [£80m from selling Cristiano Ronaldo] is there if I want to use it". Contrast Benitez, who said the task of reducing Liverpool's £240m debt had now become at least as important as managing the side's on-field fortunes.

"It [the debt] was one of the most important things that we had to manage," he said. "Along with football issues we had to manage them together. Sometimes you can do it and still perform on the pitch and sometimes you have to wait a little bit. Sometimes you have to think about the big picture and the future of the club."

The club's net spend in the summer was nil, Benitez suggested, and there may be no purchases in January. "Can we improve with these conditions? I think so but it is a question of time."

It is not quite the "meltdown" Souness spoke about on Wednesday when he compared Liverpool with Leeds United. Nothing like it, in fact. Win tomorrow, overcome Wigan and Portsmouth next week, and Liverpool's desperate autumn will start to look like an aberration and Champions League elimination might be forgotten. Give or take Xabi Alonso and Glen Johnson, they have the same core of players who ran Manchester United so close last season. Benitez also has two world-beaters at his disposal.

And there is enough money available to increase the wage bill next month, when loan deals seem the most likely means of providing the striker they lack. But Liverpool are at risk of lurching towards an ever decreasing financial circle. Failure to qualify for next season's Champions League will bring an immediate hit of £10m, conceivably a smaller transfer budget and the prospect of losing touch with those clubs whose owners can spend.

Benitez knows all about Manchester City's recent tendency to buy players opportunistically. "No chance. No chance. I think it will be very difficult for them," he insisted yesterday to the suggestion that City could capitalise on the financial plight of Liverpool and their cash-strapped owners, who are currently seeking to raise £100m by selling a 25 per cent share of the club.

That assertion becomes harder to sustain if City continue their ascent above Liverpool. The manager's exposition of his financial limitations was slightly self-serving and not a small bit flaky. A transfer policy, for example, does not actually have any bearing on a club's debt levels. The talk of a nil summer spend was also at variance with managing director Christian Purslow's public assertion that there had been a net £20m available. Benitez has been pursuing the Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic, though could not afford him, which suggests there is some cash around.

Few managers are under more unsparing pressure, though. When Benitez experienced a lack of money before – at Valencia, on whom he walked out in 2004 when director of sport Jesus Garcia Pitarch kept foisting low-budget players on him – he was not working under a weight of expectation that he would clinch the most competitive league title in the world. "At Valencia in the first year no one was expecting [us] to win the league after 31 years," Benitez said. "The problem with Liverpool is that it is a top side and everyone is expecting every single year to win trophies, trophies, trophies. The main thing is that the other teams are very strong so if you cannot win one or two games – you lose against Spurs and then against Aston Villa – the people say 'you cannot, you cannot'. This brings more pressure and sometimes it is difficult to manage the pressure for the players also."

The omens for tomorrow are good. Though the last four league matches between the sides have ended in draws, Liverpool have lost only two of the last 16 league meetings with Arsenal at Anfield. Benitez will decide today whether Fernando Torres, sharp in his brief appearance on Wednesday, and Alberto Aquilani might start. The fog will have lifted, too, and sunny intervals are forecast. Seize them while you can, Rafa.

Anfield of dreams: Memorable Liverpool v Arsenal meetings

*Liverpool 5 Arsenal 0

18 April 1964, First Division

Roger Hunt and Ian St John inspired the Reds to a famous victory to secure the first of Bill Shankly's three titles and begin an unprecedented era of dominance for the Merseyside team.

*Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2

26 May 1989, First Division

A match so iconic it inspired a book and film – Fever Pitch. Michael Thomas's injury-time goal allowed Arsenal to steal the First Division title from Liverpool in an astonishing climax to the season.

*Liverpool 3 Arsenal 0

28 August 1994, Premier League

A teenage Robbie Fowler scored three in four minutes 33 seconds to record the Premiership's fastest hat-trick.

*Liverpool 3 Arsenal 6

9 January 2007, League Cup

Brazilian forward Julio Baptista scored four, and also missed a penalty, as the Gunners progressed to the semi-finals.

*Liverpool 4 Arsenal 1

31 March 2007, Premier League

Peter Crouch hit a "perfect" hat-trick as Liverpool exacted revenge for the League Cup drubbing.

*Liverpool 4 Arsenal 2

8 April 2008, Champions League

Emmanuel Adebayor appeared to have put Arsenal through to the semi-finals before a Steven Gerrard penalty and Ryan Babel goal gave the hosts the spoils.

*Liverpool 4 Arsenal 4

21 April 2009, Premier League

Andrei Arshavin replicated Baptista's four-goal haul in a topsy-turvy game that damaged Liverpool's title challenge.

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