Papers give Rafa reason for relief

Today could be a pivotal moment in Liverpool Football Club’s season. Two disappointing and frustrating Premier League draws on the trot left us twelve points behind league leaders Arsenal before the city’s Capital of Culture celebrations had even begun. Another disappointing league season is on the cards, unless a dramatic turnaround can occur. That turnaround surely must begin with victory at Middlesbrough today. As ever, it’s been a busy week around Anfield and we warm up to today’s game with a look at this morning’s non-next-Newcastle-manager back pages’¦

The Independent hails the signing of Slovakian international defender Martin Skrtel as a possible lifeline for Rafael Benitez to salvage staying at the club beyond the summer. Ian Herbert writes:

For Rafael Benitez, a reason to be cheerful after another highly charged week. Martin Skrtel ‘“ unveiled by Liverpool as their most costly defender yesterday and immediately compared by Benitez by Jamie Carragher ‘“ revealed he had turned down a move to Everton after hearing of their neighbours’ interest.

Benitez must wait to see if the signs shown by the £6.5m Skrtel in a commanding performance for Zenit St Petersburg against Everton‘s Andy Johnson in a 1-0 Uefa Cup defeat at Goodison last month bear fruit. The 23-year-old Slovakian, whose father influenced his decision to give up an ice hockey career for football, is 10 days off match fitness having signed in the close season from the recently crowned Russian champions and will miss today’s trip to Middlesbrough.

The Times’ Oliver Kay goes with the story about Jurgen Klinsman agreeing to become the new manager of Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich from July, regarding this news as relief for Benitez. He claims this has helped Benitez’s cause to stay in the Anfield hot seat as it rules out one of the candidates for his successor’¦

Rumours had been rife throughout the football community about contact between Liverpool and the German ‘” who is said to have links to George Gillett Jr, one of the club’s co-owners ‘” and there were reports last night that Klinsmann was offered the manager’s job at Anfield before deciding to join Bayern, where he takes over from Ottmar Hitzfeld.

However, Kay still believes Benitez’s days at Liverpool are numbered unless he can patch up relationships with the men in charge.

Benítez had been considered by Bayern for that position ‘” as had José Mourinho, the former Chelsea manager ‘” but his preference has always been to stay at Liverpool. However, his long-term future at Anfield looks bleak unless he can somehow repair a damaged relationship with the club’s board. He must establish a better working relationship not only with the owners, but with Rick Parry, the chief executive, who is to liaise ever more closely with the manager in a revised structure that will result in Gillett and Tom Hicks appointing another senior executive to oversee other projects, most notably the club’s proposed new stadium in Stanley Park.

And the Irish Examiner has a story with quotes from Manchester City captain Richard Dunne, who believes he and his team mates have what it takes to steal the fourth Champions League place from under the noses of Liverpool this season.

The Dubliner is convinced City have it within them to keep both halves of Merseyside at bay as the battle for Champions League qualification intensifies.

‘œWe came off the pitch against Liverpool and thought they were not much better than us,’ Dunne said. ‘œWe all took some confidence from that.

‘œWe are all in there and we have as much chance as them of getting into that fourth position.’

Stay tuned to This Is Anfield today for news of Liverpool’s clash at Middlesbrough. The game kicks off at 3pm. Why not join in the pre, in-match and post-match banter with other fans in the forums.