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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Injury problems mount for troubled boss Benitez

Soccernet staff

Rafael Benitez will be a relieved man that the international break has finally arrived, hopeful that some of his injured players will return to fitness ahead of a crucial clash against Manchester City at Anfield on November 21.

Liverpool suffered more injury woe in the disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Birmingham City on Monday, with Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun both forced off.

Riera has suffered a stop-start season for the Reds, with his appearance against Blues being his first in a Liverpool shirt for over a month with a hamstring injury. The Spain international suffered a recurrance of the problem when stretching for a ball in the box and faces weeks on the sidelines.

More troublesome to Benitez is the injury suffered to Benayoun, one of the few bright spots this season and a player who has done much to try and fill the void left by Steven Gerrard. Benayoun also injured his hamstring late in the game and must be extremely doubtful to face City.

Fernando Torres, who declared himself unfit to face Birmingham, is also rated no better than doubtful to make a game which, if Liverpool were to lose, could have long-term implications on their ability to qualify for the Champions League next season.

Gerrard, although looking well short of match fitness, made a huge difference after being introduced for Riera just before half-time and, after a further two weeks of training and treatment, he should improve for the City game.

And Denmark defender Daniel Agger has withdrawn from November friendlies against South Korea and the United States with a back injury.

Liverpool face a hugely testing week once the international break is over.

Three days after facing City, Liverpool must travel to Hungary to play Debrecen in a must-win Champions League game which would be rendered meaningless by a Fiorentina win over Lyon in the other group game that night. Then, the following Sunday, comes the Merseyside derby at Everton's Goodison Park home.

Benitez hopes the international break has come at the right time, but is taking nothing for granted. He told the club's official website: "I will tell you after the break because every time we lose one or two players. I'm touching wood.

"Riera had the same problem as before. The players are sometimes available but not 100% ready. We thought he was okay but in the end you can see he wasn't.

"Yossi has the same problem as Riera. Some players are playing too many games in a row. They are working very hard and so you always have this risk. I think both will have tears.

"Agger also had a problem with his back. It's not serious but he felt it a little bit.

"Torres had no confidence and said he couldn't play, so we started the treatment yesterday [Monday]. He has to work with the physios and try to improve and be ready. We are not talking about an operation at this moment, we're talking about treating him properly.

"I don't know if he will be ready for Man City (in two weeks). The only thing I can say is we're talking about two or three weeks working with the physios. We haven't got a deadline, we just need to see how he is every day."

On Gerrard, Benitez added: "I think he will be okay. We have to check. There's small things but I think he'll be okay."

Benitez was frustrated with dominating possession against Birmingham but failing to get all three points. He said: "You have to be disappointed because it's a draw at home but the performance of the team was again pretty good, for me.

"We had plenty of possession and attempts, we showed character until the last minute. The fans were pushing. We couldn't get the third goal but we showed character. We had a lot of chances in the first half and it was unbelievable to see us losing 2-1 at half-time. We were attacking and attacking and I think we deserved to win.

"If you analyse the last games - against Lyon we conceded in the last minute twice, and then this game. You can't change the result but if you analyse you can see the team is doing well.

"The team is creating a lot of chances and sometimes you can't do any more. From the beginning we were on top of them. You didn't see a team that was thinking, 'Oh, we're playing badly.'

"For the last 15 minutes everyone in the stadium was thinking we'd score the third goal. Sometimes it's a question of accuracy and sometimes it's luck. We moved and passed the ball really well.

"Since three weeks or a month ago I've been saying the same - take one game at a time. I will not talk about the table or position. We won six games in a row before and then played really well against United under pressure. The reaction of the players has been fantastic - the only thing we couldn't do is get the three points."

Benitez admitted Lee Carsley's challenge on David Ngog probably should not have been a penalty.

"Maybe it wasn't a penalty but we deserved to score more goals," he said. "We have had a lot of situations against us this year - and now one for us in a game where we played well and deserved more. I was asking David afterwards and he said maybe it wasn't a penalty."

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