Belfast Telegraph

Pressure told on Liverpool players, says Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has admitted a tough season has made it difficult to change the mindset within the squad on occasions when his side have lost.

The 2-1 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday was their 10th in the Barclays Premier League — eight more than in the whole of the previous campaign.

Although United deserved to win there have been numerous occasions in the current campaign when Liverpool have let slip advantageous situations, with a run of late goals costing them dearly.

That was no more evident than in their early exit from the Champions League after they twice conceded in the last minute to Lyon, one in France costing them a victory and the other at home resulting in a defeat.

Those four dropped points were the difference in qualifying for the knockout stage.

But their late lapses have not been restricted to Europe, although they did also allow Fiorentina's Alberto Gilardino to net the winner in their final dead group game.

A 90th-minute penalty equaliser allowed Reading to go on and win their FA Cup fourth round replay while Robert Huth's effort earned Stoke a last-minute draw.

Those disappointing results have had a draining effect on the players' morale.

“We were not doing well at the beginning (of the season) and we lost a bit of confidence because we couldn't be contenders but you cannot change what has happened in the past,” said Benitez.

“If you analyse some games we were so close to winning and we lost and in the head of everyone it is not easy to manage.

“That small difference often means you lose three points or win three points.”

Losing two of their opening three league matches sowed the seeds of doubt early on in the campaign and incidents such as the “beach ball goal” at Sunderland — and all those late concessions — have only added to the sense of foreboding.

And after running United a close second last season with a club-record points haul of 86 the players have been struggling under the weight of pressure to deliver.

“In two or three games you concede the gap is too big and then you cannot (change this) and you lose your confidence and that has been the situation this year,” added Benitez, who has had to deal with injuries to influential trio Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun.

“This season has been very difficult because expectation was too high and once we lost one or two games it was more difficult mentally for everyone.

“We have had too many injuries to important players but if you put all these players together and are fully fit we play much better.

“We have to keep our confidence and energy and try to do our best until the end.”

Meanwhile, midfielder Javier Mascherano has pledged his future to the club and expects a new contract to be signed “in the next few weeks”.

Securing the Argentina captain and goalkeeper Jose Reina on extended deals have been a priority of Benitez.

With Reina close to finally concluding the deal it appears Mascherano will not be far behind him.

“The club are talking with my agents,” said Mascherano, who was a reported target for Barcelona in the summer.

Belfast Telegraph

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