Mascherano lavishes praise on Benitez

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The Independent Online

Midfielder Javier Mascherano has praised Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez for making him "a better player and a better person".

The Reds boss last week was criticised by winger Albert Riera for his communication skills and handling of players.

That outburst appears certain to see the Spain international farmed out on loan in the next fortnight to a club in Russia, where the transfer window does not close until early next month.

However, Argentina captain Mascherano, who yesterday said he expected to sign a new contract very soon, has praised Benitez.

"All managers have different ways of working," said the 25-year-old, who was rescued from the fringes of a struggling West Ham squad in January 2007 by Benitez.

"Rafa is totally different from (Argentina coach) Diego Maradona and the other managers I've had.

"For three and a half years I've been working with Rafa and I can now say I'm a better player and a better person from when I arrived here.

"That's down to Rafa and his staff."

Mascherano, who has been one of Liverpool's most consistent performers this season, believes the team have to win their remaining seven matches to secure Champions League football next season.

If they were to do that they would finish with 72 points, which was more than enough for Arsenal to clinch fourth last season as they finished nine points clear of Everton.

"I think we will have to win all our games. We have seven finals and we have to win all of them to have hope of finishing fourth," added Mascherano.

"If we can win 21 points, maybe we will be there. If not, it will be very difficult."

And the Argentinian has singled out their three remaining away matches - against Birmingham, Burnley and Hull - for special attention.

Liverpool have won only four times in the Barclays Premier League on opponents' grounds, with their last victory coming at Aston Villa on December 29.

"I think the problem for us this season has been the away form," he said.

"Obviously we have to keep going in the same way at home, but if we want to have hopes of finishing fourth, we have to improve away."

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