Reina gives Benitez a timely boost by agreeing to stay on
Pepe Reina's timing reaches levels few sometimes see. Try watching the way he'll place a cushioned, volleyed pass to his team-mates at Liverpool's training ground.
"A couple of days ago in training, Stevie (Gerrard) asked for the ball and Pepe volleyed it straight to him," Rafael Benitez said yesterday. "He's very good with his feet, but a little bit better with his hands."
Benitez had good reason to wear a beaming smile because Reina had chosen the eve of tonight's fiendishly awkward Europa League last-16 second leg tie against Lille to confirm he is committing his future to Liverpool. Though reports from Spain last night suggest that Albert Riera wants out of Liverpool, with Villareal reportedly keen on the winger as a replacement for Robert Pires, Reina has been making the right noises about a new contract for some time.
Confirmation of the fact in the week when Fernando Torres' comments in the Spanish press also hinted at some equivocation about his future was welcome and Benitez clearly anticipates his 27-year-old goalkeeper's certainties rubbing off on others.
"It is important to show that commitment and it's an example for everyone," Benitez said before an occasion on which he may be relying on Reina to quell Rudi Garcia's pacy counter-attacking French visitors, who lead 1-0 from last week's first leg.
"Maybe it will be an example for the rest of the players for the future. You can see every day how much he loves being here."
There wasn't quite the same degree of certainty from Benitez himself. "My own position is not the issue," said the manager, who did not entirely quash the links between himself and Juventus two months ago.
"It's not about whether we win or lose over one season. It's about having the consistency over how we do things. My own responsibility is to be focused -- and my only ambition at this moment is to beat Lille. It's not a case of 'oh Rafa's not guaranteeing his future'. I don't need to say anything about that. I have a very good vision about the future, but now the responsibility is just the next game."
A run to the Europa League final isn't exactly what Benitez had in mind back in August but it can potentially ease the tensions in two months when the business side of the Liverpool story is likely to create uncertainty.
Liverpool have never lost at home to a French club in a knockout tie but Lille, fourth in Le Ligue, offer a tough test with their pace -- winger Eden Hazard a particularly tough competitor.
Before a challenging night, Benitez was surprisingly reflective on his future. "If we want to achieve things we have to do them properly," he reflected. "The manager, the staff, the whole club -- everyone in all the departments. One good or bad year doesn't make the difference, you have to see the big picture.
"The expectations were really high at the beginning of the season. When we didn't win a few games there were a few comments. There was a bit of uncertainty and also the confidence of the players was affected, but that is something we have to manage."
Reina, who has won the Premier League golden glove for most clean sheets in the past three seasons, summed up the challenge of the next four days by acknowledging that Liverpool do have Sunday's visit to Old Trafford in the back of their mind -- "which is always massive for the fans" -- but need one of those legendary Anfield European nights first.
"It's a really tough game now for us after losing in France, because it allows them to play to their strengths, to defend deep -- which they are good at -- and then attack on the counter," said Reina. "The fans know this is a really important game for the club, and how much we need them." (© Independent News Service)
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