Reina warns Liverpool about losing seventh spot
IT is a stark indication of how far Liverpool's stock has plummeted this season that goalkeeper Pepe Reina declared yesterday that the Merseyside club face a battle to finish in the top seven, let alone the Champions League places.
Trailing Tottenham by five points and having played a game more, Liverpool must beat Burnley at Turf Moor tomorrow to keep alive any faint hopes they have of finishing fourth.
Reina believes their form has been so bad that they are also looking over their shoulder amid fears that they could be leapfrogged by Everton, who are five points behind them in eighth.
"We have to keep fighting for fourth place," he said. "But also for seventh place because that position does not come easily any more."
Should West Ham United beat Wigan Athletic today, Burnley will be relegated if they fail to win against Liverpool. If there were grounds for optimism for the Lancashire club's manager Brian Laws, it will have been his opponents' woeful record away from home this season.
Liverpool's 1-0 defeat away to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday was their 13th loss in 27 matches on their travels in all competitions, a statistic that manager Rafael Benitez conceded was unacceptable for a club of their stature and ambition.
"That record suggests we have not been good enough away from home and have to improve, it's true," Benitez said. "In Madrid it was a pity because we couldn't get the away goal, but we have to be more solid and stronger. That's mentally, physically, in the games, before them -- everything."
Reina has warned his team-mates that they cannot use their 23-and-a half-hour journey to Madrid by rail, road and air as "an excuse" for the defeat by Atletico or if they fail to overcome Burnley, even though the goalkeeper fears tiredness may be a factor.
Jamie Carragher has taken a swipe at the Premier League, accusing the organisation of jeopardising the club's chances of reaching the Europa League final by forcing them to play against West Ham last Monday night, only 72 hours before their game in Madrid. It is the third time in the past seven weeks that has happened.
"The worst thing for us was playing on the Monday night," the defender said. "You hear all about the Premier League wanting English clubs to do well in Europe. Well, we've just played Monday and Thursday.
"When Inter Milan are in the Champions League, they play on a Friday night. Their league does everything to help them. Playing on Monday night was a joke. That was more of a thing than all the travelling we did, which, really, wasn't that bad at all."
Liverpool, meanwhile, held talks with officials from Real Madrid during their brief stay in the Spanish capital. Real have been linked with Steven Gerrard and, while there was understood to be no discussion about the Liverpool captain's future, it is thought that the prospect of Rafael van der Vaart, the Holland attacking midfield player, moving to Anfield was floated.
That would be one source of encouragement for Liverpool, although if Benitez thought he had problems, he might want to spare a thought for Laws.
The Burnley manager's fighting spirit remains undiminished, even if he believes his players will have to be at their best to claim full points against Liverpool.
"Liverpool are an animal that is wounded," Laws said. "They might not have done as well against the bottom teams and maybe that's been their Achilles heel, but we can't rely on that. Is it a good time to get them? That's rubbish. They've played 90 minutes of football, the rest of the time they're resting, whatever their transport is.
"I won't be using that in preparation. It would be stupid. We've got to use experiences like beating Manchester United and Everton at home because they're the ingredients we need."
With a place in the Europa League final now Liverpool's main target, Benitez may be tempted to rest some players, including David Ngog.
"We will see after they have rested, and must talk with each one before we decide, but we don't have too many options," Benitez said.
"We'll work hard to give them as much time to recover as possible, controlling nutrition, drinks, things like that, to make it as easy as we can for them." (©The Times, London)