Defensive Benitez denies concern over sack

January 7, 2008

Rafael Benitez again leapt to the defence of his selection policy as he denied suggestions he fears the sack as Liverpool boss.

GettyImagesA draw against Luton has not helped Rafa

Benitez's future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks and the rumours are unlikely to subside after his team were taken to an FA Cup third round replay by lowly Luton yesterday.

John Arne Riise's 76th-minute own goal gave the cash-strapped Hatters a money-spinning replay on Merseyside after Peter Crouch had opened the scoring against the run of play.

A 1-1 draw was no more than administration-hit Luton deserved against a disjointed Liverpool side that showed eight changes from their last outing, with Fernando Torres and Jose Reina both rested.

Asked about his team selection, Benitez said: 'What is my strongest team? Do you think our goalkeeper was troubled too much today?

'When you play Crouch, who is the centre forward for England, (Yossi) Benayoun, who is an international player, (Dirk) Kuyt, who is an international player and (Andriy) Voronin, you give the other team the message that you have a very strong side. The other players were injured.

'I think the team scored a goal and need to use their experience to control the game.

'But it's the FA Cup. Look at what happened to Everton, Blackburn and Bolton - that's the FA Cup.'

On the speculation over his job, the Spaniard added: 'I love the club and the fans and want to stay.

'I have two years left on my contract and if I could stay for two years more, I would be very happy.'

Asked if the club's American owners wanted him to stay, he replied: 'The people who own the club? I think so. But every day do I need to ask them that question?

'I love the club, fans. I want to stay. We are working together trying to improve the squad now and for the future.

'All I think is that we scored a goal today and should have controlled the game, I don't need to answer questions about anything else.'

For Luton, who have been unable to fully pay their players since being plunged into administration three months ago, the result meant a vital pay day in the replay.

Manager Kevin Blackwell said: 'I wanted to be talking about the football, but in terms of all the things that are going on, yes, it's the perfect result.

'But I'm disappointed because I thought we could have won the game.

'We asked the players to do certain things and we edged them in terms of chances.

'A bit more guile in the final third and we would have won. Our passing, invention and movement was just as good as theirs.

'We showed terrific heart and terrific fitness and when we needed a special save from Brilly (Dean Brill), he pulled it off.

'But in terms of the survival of this football club, it's a fantastic result.'