Benitez: Spurs game is 'make or break'

Liverpool manager says that only victory can keep hopes of top-four finish alive
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The Independent Football

Rafa Benitez has broken what is almost the habit of a lifetime by admitting that Liverpool's encounter with Tottenham Hotspur will "make or break" his side's season.

Benitez never usually answers a question directly if there are other avenues to lead his interrogators down but he was unequivocal yesterday in his opinion that a victory over Harry Redknapp's side tonight is an absolute must if Liverpool's hopes of a Champions League spot are to be realised.

Apart from his infamous notepad assault on Sir Alex Ferguson last January, when he believed the wider world needed to know some "facts" about the Manchester United manager, and his claims last month that he could "guarantee" a Champions League finish this term, Benitez prefers to be evasive at best and silent at worse.

"Yes," was his answer when asked if tonight's match was a "make or break" encounter. "There's a big difference between being one point behind and seven points behind. It's an important game for us.

"If Tottenham win, it will give them a buzz and a lift and they will have confidence, but if we can beat them then we'll be in a good position. And when a team is fighting from behind it gives you more confidence."

The fact Benitez has not already started to give up on his hopes of maintaining the hegemony of the top four is a credit to his self-confidence but also an acknowledgement that his side's rivals for a Champions League spot have failed to take full advantage of Liverpool's poor season.

The Reds may have lost seven matches this term but Manchester United, for example, have also been defeated more times this season than in the entirety of last year. This means that Liverpool are not dead yet and it is to that straw that Benitez can be found clutching. "I think it is a different league this year," Benitez added. "Every team is losing games and dropping points. So it is very important for us to improve right now.

"We are so close that if we beat Tottenham we will go to just one point behind them and we will be in the middle of the race. It's true that we were not doing well but I think that we will be in the race until the end."

Regardless of whether or not his side score against Liverpool tonight, Redknapp made it clear yesterday that he is interested in bringing a striker in during the January window and he has his sights set firmly on Real Madrid's Ruud van Nistelrooy.

"It's interesting but it depends what the deal is," Redknapp said of the possibility of landing the former Manchester United forward. "The chairman would deal with that side but he's an interesting player. It's not impossible, if it was right we could be interested."

Meanwhile, Roman Pavlyuchenko is aiming to leave the club. "Pav is looking to move," Redknapp added. "Only if someone came in and it was a good offer though, otherwise it would not be possible."

Redknapp also joined his opposite number in turning the pressure right up on his players ahead of tonight's contest. Redknapp has never won at Anfield as a manager and he is desperate to end that gnawing statistic. "It's about time we done it," he said. "We can't keep going there, playing well and getting beat. We need a result."