Benitez urges Tottenham fans to respect Keane

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The Independent Online

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is welcoming the pressures involved in taking his team to Tottenham as leaders of the Barclays Premier League.

But he believes former Tottenham skipper Robbie Keane, now in Liverpool's ranks, has no reason to feel any extra burden as he prepares to return to the club he left for £20m in the summer.

Keane can expect a hot welcome from Tottenham fans who saw their idol defect to the club he supported as a boy.

Benitez insists he "enjoys the pressures of managing a team at the top of the table" and he also hopes that Keane is treated with respect by the Spurs supporters.

He compared Keane's return to Peter Crouch's arrival at Anfield in a Portsmouth shirt on Wednesday, just months after his move to Fratton Park.

Benitez said: "Peter came back to Liverpool this week and was given a great reception. He will always be a good player and he has the respect of our fans.

"I do not believe that Robbie has anything to prove, he has great quality. Hopefully Spurs fans will acknowledge this and what he did for them, and that he is now with another team.

"Keane is available after his slight (groin) injury, he wants to play every game anyway, but yes, this one is very important to him.

"He would like to see the Spurs fans and say 'hello' again. He was a key player for them for some years, a fantastic professional and gave 100 per cent all the time.

"But I think their fans will appreciate what Robbie gave them when he was there."

But Benitez wants more from Keane, who has scored just twice in 16 matches at Liverpool.

He said: "Robbie is a very good player and is working hard, but we know he can play better and score more goals because he has that potential.

"Robbie has experience and is trying to do his job. He is not under pressure because he knows the team is winning, and his contribution to those victories has been very, very good.

"He is happy with that. People talk about his price but it does not worry him on the pitch, you do not think about that, only about how to do things well.

"We can see in every training session how hard Robbie works, and he is the same in games. He is doing well but he can improve."

Liverpool, who will probably again be without Fernando Torres, have been top since Sunday's win at Chelsea, while Tottenham are still bottom despite a dramatic change of fortune under new boss Harry Redknapp.

Rather than being among the chasing teams, Benitez said: "I prefer to be top. It is better for us because we can approach games with more confidence than when you are playing to catch-up at the top.

"If you make a mistake then, it can become very difficult because the gap gets bigger. When you are top there is some leeway. You know that you do have a cushion of some points to do that.

"My view on the season so far is that we are in a very good position, we are glad to be there, but there is still a long way to go.

"We are happy, we are doing well, but we must keep concentration because this is a very long race.

"The pressure does not bother me, it is better to be top than trying to catch-up.

"But we do still have plenty of room for improvement. We need to be more accurate up front and in defence a little more composed.

"We all know we can do it better, we are not bad, but we can be much better."

Benitez is also well aware of the Redknapp factor, given the impact the former Portsmouth boss has made since the sacking of Juande Ramos.

He said: "I was surprised that Juande has gone, I said that he had good players when he was under pressure.

"Before he was sacked I felt that Spurs would finish a lot higher in the table, and I still have that view.

"When you fire a manager, for me it is never a good decision. For me it is always bad, it is important to keep calm and give managers time, because experience tells you that things are better when you do that.

"Now Spurs have had two games under Harry Redknapp and they have done well, the players have something different to concentrate on.

"When you change a manager, like you saw at Arsenal when Spurs drew 4-4, it can make an immediate difference, they were suddenly much better.

"But the key will be just how they are doing in two or three months' time.

"They did well at Arsenal, maybe a couple of their goals were a bit lucky, but they still count and it was a good result for them."

Benitez added: "As for us we must keep the momentum, we have confidence and we are creating chances and not conceding too many.

"It is important to keep the players doing things just as they are doing now.

"What pleases me is that we have been without three of our top players for maybe half the games we have played. Javier Mascherano, Torres and Martin Skrtel have all missed several games each but we are still unbeaten and now top.

"That shows the quality we have in the squad now, it has improved at Liverpool."

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