RAFAEL BENITEZ yesterday delivered a withering riposte to his critics and dismissed Jurgen Klinsmann’s managerial record.
The former Germany international and manager attacked Benitez’s record as Liverpool manager and the quality of the current squad.
Klinsmann took Germany to the semi-finals of their home World Cup in 2006, but his stint in charge of Bayern Munich lasted less than a season before he was sacked.
Speaking about Klinsmann’s attack, Benitez said: “I think he was an expert in marketing. His management career? Short.”
Klinsmann was at the centre of a storm two years ago when he was involved in talks with Liverpool’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over the Anfield hot seat.
Liverpool, who signed off from their disappointing Champions League campaign with a home defeat by Fiorentina on Wednesday, are looking to regroup for the second half of the season.
The Reds, who lie seventh in the Premier League and have only won three of their last 14 games in all competitions, take on Arsenal tomorrow in a game that will be vital for their hopes of a top-four finish.
Earlier this week, Graeme Souness, who had an unsuccessful stint as Liverpool boss between 1991 and 1994, has warned of a potential “meltdown” for his old club if they fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
But Benitez, who is boosted by having Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Alberto Aquilani fit at the same time for the first time this season, hit back at the Scot’s remarks.
Benitez said: “There is always criticism but I don’t listen. I turn off the volume on the TV.”
He added sarcastically: “Both (Souness and Klinsmann) have fantastic records as managers, so the fans ignore what they say.’’
Benitez’s defiance wasn’t matched by Torres though, with the Spanish striker admitting Liverpool are now Premier League also-rans.
While Benitez believes Liverpool will claim a top four finish at least, Torres admits he is “changing his targets” for the rest of the season.
Torres will almost certainly make his first start for Liverpool since early November against the Gunners after a prolonged groin injury. And the Spain striker believes he has to prove himself after an injury-hit campaign.
“I am looking forward, and trying not to have any more injuries,” he said. “I want to be 100% fit now for all of the season, and of course the World Cup finals.
“We are out of the Champions League, we are really far away from the top of the Premier League, so we have to change our targets,’’ Torres said.
“We have to look to the Europa League, the FA Cup as the only competitions we can win this season. And making sure that we stay in the top four.”
He added: “I know I am considered one of the key players and people are expecting a lot from me, plenty of goals, and my team- mates expect that from me too.
“But for me, it is just nice to be back fit, and for me to try to make those things possible. I just want to play and to help the team.’’
Benitez, however, has refused to give up the chase just yet, at least for a top four slot, even though his side have won only three of their last 14 games.
Skipper Gerrard looks fully fit after his injury problems, while Aquilani is desperate to face the Gunners at Anfield after his full debut on Wednesday in the Champions League defeat by Fiorentina.
That gives Benitez hope.
He said: “Always I have to think of the positives. We cannot change the Champions League, but we can improve everywhere else.
“But if I am negative that can spread to the players and the fans. It is my responsibility to avoid that, part of the job is to keep everyone positive.
“We are not happy with what has happened in Europe, but we have to find positive ways to approach things.
“We have a tough spell now before the Europa League starts again in February. There are a lot of games before then, and it is a crucial period in the English league.
“Crucially we now have Torres and Gerrard fit. When they played together last season, we finished second. Aquilani is ready too.”
He added: “We are better than we look, now we have three quality players all available and all fit. Now let’s see whether we can improve our position and get into the top four.
“We will be there. Arsenal will do that too. We can improve, we can be in the top four and we can win a trophy.
“We have had a bad spell but we are still very close to the top four. And our top players are available. We must start again, maybe it will be too late (in the league), you never know.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved