Rafa hopes Latics loss was a ‘blip’

Considering the state of the current campaign, the Spaniard’s
comments have more than a ring of truth to them. After Monday’s
diabolical performance in the 1-0 defeat to Wigan – described by
Benitez as “a blip” – the Reds’ hopes of securing a top-four finish
in the Premier League have diminished considerably. As a result the
Europa League – a consolation prize for an early exit from this
season’s Champions League – represents the club’s only realistic
chance of success. And while that may be a bitter pill for the
Liverpool hierarchy and fans to swallow, it at least gives the
squad some degree of focus. Focus which was distinctly lacking in a
woeful first 45 minutes at the DW Stadium. “It was an opportunity
to get back in the top four – an opportunity that was lost,” said
Benitez. “You cannot change things but we have an opportunity now
in the Europa League and must try to do our best. “A game right now
will be a chance for the players to show their character. “The last
10 games we have been all right. We had character, everyone was
working hard, helping each other and working together. “It was a
surprise and hopefully this result is just a blip and we will see
the real Liverpool on Thursday. “We realise this is important for a
lot of people. I think the players know we have to improve. “We
cannot make mistakes. We could not before [the Wigan defeat], we
cannot now. “We have to approach every game thinking it is the most
important game of the season. We have to be really focused.”
Benitez questioned his players’ attitude at Wigan after so many
basic errors, including giving the ball away for the only goal, in
the first half. Yesterday those that were involved in the match
were given light jogging duties with the rest of the first-team
squad put through their paces in a full training session. Those who
witnessed the display at Wigan may have argued for hard labour for
the most culpable, but Benitez is confident his side will bounce
back. Liverpool’s away form has been patchy this season but their
last trip to the continent brought a 3-1 victory over Unirea
Urziceni in Bucharest which, apart from a few dodgy moments in the
first half, eased their passage into the next round. The Reds boss
called for a similar sort of performance from his side to lift the
gloom. “Yesterday we had a training session with two groups; one
was just jogging, the other group was training really well,” said
Benitez. “We had a conversation before and we were talking together
about what was wrong. “Today we will see the players working
together and the mood has to be good because they know they have to
perform. “In previous games we were working very hard as a team.
That is an example we can do it. “The players are keen to show what
they can do. If we show the real character we have it will be
easier for us to get a good result.” Lille are currently fifth in
Ligue 1, just four points behind leaders Bordeaux, having lost
seven matches this season – two fewer than Liverpool – and would
have been third but for a 1-1 draw at lowly St Etienne at the
weekend. Benitez knows how important a victory in northern France
will be, not only for European ambitions but also for dwindling
domestic hopes. “Lille have some good players with ability and
their form at home is good. It will be tough but we have to be
ready,” he added. “We know we have to score and approach the game
thinking about winning. “We have had more problems away from
Anfield than at home this season so we have to adjust. “If you look
at Stoke, it was a fantastic game and we showed real character. We
have to do the same in every game, especially away. “When a team is
playing well it doesn’t really matter the competition you are in.
It helps you confidence going into league matches.” With defender
Fabio Aurelio still sidelined with a thigh strain midfielder Yossi
Benayoun is Liverpool’s only injury doubt as he missed training
yesterday with an ankle injury sustained at Wigan.