LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez believes he finally has his team playing the way he wants, but it may have come too late for them in the Barclays Premier League title race.
The Spaniard has built a reputation of being cautious and unadventurous but in their last eight matches in all competitions they have scored 27 goals.
Uncharacteristically, they have conceded 12, with successive 4-4 draws against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League and Wednesday night’s epic against Arsenal at Anfield, which handed the initiative back to arch-rivals Manchester United in the championship run-in.
After Liverpool’s 4-0 Champions League victory over Real Madrid in mid-March — which signalled the start of their goalscoring run— captain Steven Gerrard claimed the “shackles were off”.
However, Benitez insists he has not switched tactics and their recent form is merely a result of months of hard work finally paying off.
“There is not really, a change of emphasis. The understanding between the players is better,” said the Liverpool boss.
“This week we were talking in training sessions and we could see the team were playing with a lot of confidence. We didn’t need to say anything because they knew what to do. Because we have been practising so many times during the season the players know now what to do.
“For me we have the same mentality, the difference now is we play better. We have more confidence and we can score more goals.”
Although Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun scored two apiece in the second half against the Gunners, Liverpool could have been in total control of the game before the interval had they taken their chances and also not found goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski on form.
Benitez said their form in front of goal was improving and that was due to rising confidence levels.
“If we can keep Torres fit, it will be much better and you can see Benayoun is on fire,” he added.
“Two or three players are doing well in attack and that could be a massive difference. Always we have a lot of shots and lot of opportunities but now we are scoring more goals.”
With five matches remaining there is no more room for error and although Benitez believes that pressure may have affected the performance last night, he stressed the players cannot allow themselves to be crippled by it in the run-in.
“Sometimes you play with a bit of anxiety and you make mistakes,” said the Spaniard.
“It is something we have to manage if we want to keep going until the end of the season. We showed against Arsenal we are a good team with a good mentality and great character but also I think we have to improve.
“It is difficult to know where the title challenge lies because you never know what will happen in the next game. We know we have to keep going in every single game and see what happens at the end. United still have to play against Arsenal and Manchester City.”
Arsenal could yet do Liverpool a favour if they win at Old Trafford on May 16, the penultimate weekend of the season. Gunners boss Arsene Wenger certainly does not think the title race is over and has pledged his side will be totally committed when they visit Manchester on the penultimate weekend of the season.
“Don’t worry at Liverpool, we will go to Manchester United and try as well to win in the championship,” said the Frenchman.
“United had a little bit of a problem before the interruption of the Champions League. How they bounce back will certainly be decisive. It is still very open.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved