Top scorer Fernando Torres, talismanic captain Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun, arguably the club’s best outfield player this term, all learned yesterday they face lay-offs after undergoing scans. The trio were all injured in the humiliating FA Cup loss to Championship strugglers Reading which piled on the pressure for Benitez.
The injury to Torres is the biggest blow with the Spain striker requiring surgery on a torn knee cartilage that will rule him out for six weeks. Gerrard is expected to be missing for a fortnight with a torn hamstring while Benayoun will be absent for up to four weeks with a fractured rib. The loss of players he has been regularly been criticised for relying too heavily on is the last thing Benitez needed in the aftermath of another embarrassing result.
The 2-1 third-round replay reverse at Anfield on Wednesday night was the latest upset in a season that has seen the so-called title challengers fall out of Premier League contention and exit the Champions League early.
Currently seventh in the Premier League, they are facing a tough battle to retain a top-four place, and their elimination from both cups leaves them with just the Europa League to otherwise occupy them.
Torres will not feature in any of those games or further Premier League matches against Arsenal and Manchester City and the two-legged Europa League clash with Romanian team Unirea Urziceni. Despite the gloom and growing calls for him to leave, Benitez remains defiant and believes he can turn the situation around.
The Spaniard said: “A lot of people are talking about me, but I have to look forward and keep working hard.
“All I can do is to try to do my best every day, every match. That is all anyone can do.
“Right from the beginning of the season there have been problems, (privately) we feared it could be like that.
“But the only option is to carry on, to do your best to change things around. In any race you have to try to move forward as quickly as possible.
“I accept that the season has become bad, certainly not the best. There have been too many bad moments.
“We can only carry on and be ready for the next game. All we can say is that we must focus on the next challenge.”
Benitez complained after the Reading defeat of “things that happened I did not like” but declined to criticise referee Phil Dowd, who gave Reading a debatable penalty in injury time which forced the match into extra time.
But the former Valencia boss was believed to have been upset by some of the physical challenges aimed at Torres, Gerrard and Benayoun.
Benitez said: “We cannot change the result, we must move forward.
“We have to think only about the future.
“We do not rely on Gerrard and Torres too much, they are very important for us, but we have other players who can perform, score goals and win matches for us.
“We know we can improve.”