'We will have to win at Old Trafford' says Benitez

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The Independent Football

He has steadfastly refused to agree that Manchester United are the only team left in a one-horse title race but Rafael Benitez acknowledged yesterday that his Liverpool side would have to win at Old Trafford on 14 March to have any chance of winning the title despite drawing with Manchester City.

With the gap to United now at seven points, Benitez’s thoughts turned to the Champions League and the Liverpool manager said that he believed Steven Gerrard would be fit to play against Real Madrid on Wednesday. The Liverpool captain missed yesterday’s game – he has not played since injuring his hamstring against Everton in the FA Cup replay on 4 February –and will have a fitness test today before the team fly to Spain tomorrow.

Benitez said: “I have confidence we can beat Middlesbrough [on Saturday] and Sunderland [3 March] and it will be a different situation. It’s not easy, clearly it’s not easy but there are still 12 games left so you can’t say everything is finished. Clearly we have to win our next games and after that we will have to beat them [United]. They have quality without playing well and they can win games. If they lose, then we have to win.”

Craig Bellamy’s goal, equalised by Dirk Kuyt, meant that it was Liverpool’s sixth home draw in the League. Benitez would not discuss the latest developments in his contract saga in which it understood that he is no closer to signing a new deal. His contract runs out in July next year and problems between him and the co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett look no closer to a resolution.

Benitez said: “The first half we had control of the game and some opportunities but you have to score first and we conceded from a deflection. Everything changed and the game was more open. They have pace and ability and on the counterattack they are more dangerous, we had chances to win the game. It was a bad result and we could have done better in the first half. We can’t change the result now, we have to prepare for the future.”

As well as Xabi Alonso, suspended for yesterday’s game, Benitez can expect to have Gerrard back for the first leg game against Real Madrid. “Gerrard will train [today], he is close,” Benitez said. “He is improving, hopefully he will be okay.”

It was the fourth time this season that Bellamy has scored against a former club of his. His manager Mark Hughes said that he was still confident that his team, in 10th position, could beat the club’s record highest Premier League finish of eighth. “I thought it was an excellent performance and we are disappointed not to get all three points,” Hughes said.

“We are looking for a strong finish. If we can better the record of eighth, then people will have to agree reluctantly that we have had a good season. There are still games to go and Liverpool can certainly come back but they are probably looking at Manchester United slipping up and they don’t do that often.”

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