Reina: we can ease Rafa row

LIVERPOOL goalkeeper Jose Reina has called on his team-mates to help relieve the boardroom tension that currently exists at the club by continuing their superb recent form on the pitch.

The much-publicised spat between manager Rafael Benitez and co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, which centres around the release of funds for the January transfer window, will come to a head this weekend when the parties meet.

Benitez goes into the talks armed with an amazing recent run of results — Saturday’s defeat to Reading aside — culminating in Tuesday night’s stunning 4-0 win at Marseille, which secured a place in the Champions League knockout stages.

That made it 25 goals in the last seven games for the Merseysiders, who are also well placed in the Premier League heading into Sunday’s crucial clash with rivals Manchester United.

Benitez’s position is surely not under threat after the results of the past month, and compatriot Reina has hailed his team-mates’ ability to shut out the off-field issues and focus on events on it.

“We have to respect the opinions of the manager and the owners,” said the Spanish international goalkeeper.

“But all we can do is go out there to play and win.

“Two weeks ago, we said to ourselves we must focus on our play and do our best on the pitch. That’s what we are doing.”

The club’s players and supporters have rallied around Benitez in his time of need and arguably made his position even stronger.

Reina has ultimate faith in his boss, adding: “The manager has a cold mind — he knows what to do at any moment. We have showed everyone that people must trust us in these difficult situations.

“We have a great team. Now we must compete at this level in the Premier League and play another ‘final’ against Manchester United.”

The thrashing of Marseille will go down as another epic European night for the Anfield club. Before last night, every English team who played at the Stade Velodrome in Europe had gone home defeated.

But the class of 2007 made a mockery of that record, dominating from start to finish in a Champions League masterclass.

Early goals by Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres calmed early nerves, and the Reds made the most of embarrassing OM defending to add second half efforts through Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel.

Benitez’s men picked up just one point from their opening three games but three straight wins, during which the team scored 16 goals and conceded just one, rounded off an ultimately successful Group A campaign.

“It was a must-win game but we knew it was in our own hands,” said Reina. “Because of the situation we were in, it was one of our best games in terms of completeness.

“We played well going forward and were compact in defence. We just have to keep this momentum going.”

Liverpool finished second in their group and face an Italian or Spanish team in the last 16. Inter Milan, holders AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona are possible opponents.

Reina, however, says his side don’t fear anyone in Europe, saying: “We have beaten Barca, Juventus, Chelsea (in recent seasons) and therefore have confidence in ourselves.”

Meanwhile Marseille coach Eric Gerets hailed the quality of Liverpool’s display, after his side were condemned to the UEFA Cup.

“The best two teams in the group have qualified for the last 16,” admitted Gerets.

“All we can do is salute our opponents.”

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