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.