Liverpool began the process of regrouping yesterday amid a mounting sense of crisis at Anfield. Monday night's fortunate draw with Birmingham saw two more players added to a rapidly expanding injury list and left manager Rafael Benitez calling for "realism" and Glen Johnson describing recent events as "awful." Rarely can an international break have been more welcome.
It is now one win in nine games for Liverpool but Benitez insists his side are "playing better" and just need a bit of "luck", although the penalty that a flying David Ngog won against Birmingham might be construed by many as a turn of fortune. Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun both suffered hamstring injuries on Monday, while Benitez has heeded the advice of doctors in Valencia by deciding that Fernando Torres, who was not used, will now need three weeks of complete rest. That means he is unlikely to be fit for Manchester City's visit to Anfield on 21 November.
"We have to be realistic and think what our target is now," Benitez said. "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 are talking of two or three weeks out now for Fernando. The hamstrings for Riera and Benayoun could be the same and [Daniel] Agger has more problems with his back. He has worked hard in training, and we felt he would be OK for the match. But you could see that he was not right. Steven Gerrard looked OK 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."
One of Benitez's favourite topics this season has been of the big clubs losing more matches, which would allow Liverpool to keep in contact despite their poor 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."
Johnson, one of Liverpool's better players on Monday, said: "The record sounds awful and it is awful for a club like Liverpool. But things like this happen in football. You stick together and keep fighting. We have seen in the league that everyone can beat everyone; if someone had told you at the start of the season that we'd win one in nine, you'd have laughed your head off.
The first time in 10 years."
Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta said last night that Mark Hughes' side are ready to capitalise on Liverpool's poor form and were among several challengers with the capability to take a top four spot from them. "They are not playing well and they have had injuries," Zabaleta said, with Liverpool a point behind City in eighth place, having played a game more. "We have only lost one game and Liverpool have lost five." City are hardly in full flow themselves after five successive draws but Zabaleta said they are savouring the lunchtime match on Sunday week which has much resting on it for both sides. "After a lot of draws it's sometimes better to play a big team. In an odd way it can be easier," he said.
City are not the only side with pretensions on Liverpool's place among the elite, he added. "Any club – such as Liverpool or Spurs – want to play in the top four. It's a long season and all the games are difficult." The Argentine is aware from his conversations with Liverpool compatriots Javier Mascherano and Emiliano Insua of the expectations at Anfield. "They feel the pressure," Zabaleta said.
Out of action: Liverpool's absences
Manchester City (h) 21 November
Debrecen (a) 24 November
Everton (a) 29 November
Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun Both limped out of the draw with Birmingham with hamstring injuries that will sideline them for a minimum of three weeks.
Fernando Torres Has started treatment on hernia problem to avoid surgery, will be out for three weeks working with physios.
Steven Gerrard Hopeful of returning to full fitness by resting groin during international break.
Daniel Agger Recurrence of back injury has forced the defender out of Denmark squad this week.