As the pre-FC Porto match press conference got underway this afternoon, Rafa Benitez made it perfectly clear there was only one thing on his mind.
He said, “Before you start asking, for all the media here as Liverpool football club’s manager, I know this is the most important thing for the club.
“I will talk only of Porto. No distractions. We are thinking of Porto and nothing else.”
Amid all the speculation, rumours and reports surrounding the tension between Benitez and club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett and the state of the Spaniard’s future at Anfield, Rafa and players alike wanted to make sure they are focussed on the Champions League clash against the Portuguese side at Anfield tomorrow night.
Captain Steven Gerrard says he and the players will have no problem in blanking out all off-field matters and concentrate on the job in hand.
Talking in tonight’s Liverpool Echo, the midfielder says, “It’s important that the players keep their focus. We realise that there is stuff going on behind the scenes but as a player you have just got to blank that out.
“As players we get judged on results so it’s vital that we don’t get distracted from what is going on on the pitch and keep on winning.
“The match against Porto is crucial so we have to take our form into it and make sure we perform on the night.”
Similarly goalkeeper Pepe Reina is shrugging off the current climate in the Anfield boardroom. “It’s not affecting us,” he said today. “It is not always easy, but all we can do is play football and show how good we are on the pitch.”
Liverpool must beat FC Porto tomorrow night to stay in contention to qualify for the second phase of this season’s competition after a torrid start which saw them pick up just one point, incidentally at Porto, in their opening three games.
Benitez believes the Reds will have the upper hand over the visitors due to their abundance of experience they hold in big European nights at Anfield of recent days gone by.
He says, “The players have enough experience, and also enough confidence at the minute, to win.
“We have experience against Olympiacos, against Juventus and against Chelsea of having to win games and winning them. We need to win but you have to approach the game with a confident mentality.
“I don’t want to change the message, it is really important to win, and we will go into this game to win, but I want you to consider that if we draw, and if Besiktas beat Marseille, maybe we can also qualify.
“So yes, it’s important to win, but it’s just as important not to make mistakes and not to lose the game.”
Meanwhile Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano is expected to return to the team tomorrow night after being rested for Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Newcastle in the Premier League.
Liverpool squad vs FC Porto: Reina, Arbeloa, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Aurelio, Riise, Benayoun, Gerrard, Lucas, Mascherano, Sissoko, Kewell, Crouch, Kuyt, Torres, Voronin, Babel, Itandje.
Kick-off is at 7.45pm.