Rafa says 'sorry' to Reds fans
Liverpool - Rafael Benitez has apologised to Liverpool fans for his side's woeful season but the under-pressure Reds boss insists he has no intention of quitting.
Benitez saw Liverpool's troubled campaign hit a new low on Wednesday when Championship strugglers Reading claimed a shock FA Cup third round win at Anfield.
The Spaniard had already presided over a Champions League group stage exit, as well as what looks certain to be another failed attempt to end Liverpool's 19-year wait to win the league title.
It appears unlikely that Benitez will be sacked by Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett midway through the season after club sources hinted that the manager's job was safe for the moment.
That may not be the case if he fails to secure the top four finish that guarantees Champions League football and Benitez, speaking ahead of Saturday's trip to Stoke, was quick to acknowledge that performances have been way below what is expected by the fans.
Recalling his infamous rant at Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson last season, Benitez addressed reporters from a sheet of paper as he mounted a staunch defence of his reign.
"We are not playing well and everyone here feels sorry for our fans," he said on Friday. "This is a bad moment, we are not doing well during the season and we know have to improve and we have the belief we can do it.
"How can we improve? Winning on the pitch. How can we be sure we win on the pitch? By training well.
"If I am worried about my position or the future of the club at this moment I will lose my focus.
"Stoke is the most important game now and we have to prepare properly. I cannot be worried about the other things. My future is Stoke now."
With Liverpool's financial worries mounting, Benitez could also be protected by the long-term contract he signed in March worth an estimated 20 million pounds.
Paying off that deal would be a daunting prospect for Hicks and Gillett, but regardless of what his employers' may be planning, Benitez is determined to concentrate on getting Liverpool back on track.
The Spaniard's hopes of restoring the feelgood factor around Anfield won't be helped by the injuries to key players Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun sustained against Reading.
Torres needs knee surgery which will keep him out for six weeks, Benayoun sustained a broken rib which is likely to sideline him for a month and Gerrard is out for a fortnight with a hamstring problem.
However, Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano returns after a four-match suspension and new signing Maxi Rodriguez will also be involved after joining from Atletico Madrid in midweek.
Facing an obdurate outfit like Stoke at the intimidating Britannia Stadium is hardly the fixture Benitez would have chosen to erase the Reading defeat.
But he was backed by Stoke boss Tony Pulis, who said: "I think Rafa has been a little unfortunate this year in the respect that his best players have either been injured or not really on top form. They've not performed like they can do.
"Against Reading, (Pepe) Reina didn't play, and he is arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League.
"(Javier) Mascherano was missing, and he's the best holding player in the Premier League, and then you've Gerrard and Torres who have played with injuries and who have come off. You also had a quality right-back in (Glen) Johnson who didn't play through injury.
"So there are five players who, if they were available and playing to their maximum, would make Liverpool a completely different team."