LIVERPOOL, England, Nov 22, 2009 (AFP) - Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez brushed aside his team's stuttering form to insist that they will finish in the top four.
The defiant Spaniard watched from the sidelines as Saturday's 2-2 home draw with Manchester City left last season's Premier League runners-up with just one win in 10 games in all competitions.
|Rafael Benitez (R) gestures while Mark Hughes Manager of Manchester City (L) watches during a Premier League match at Anfield in Liverpool, on November 21, 2009. AFP PHOTO|
It would have been far worse had substitute Yossi Benayoun not salvaged a point with a late equaliser after goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Stephen Ireland threatened another dismal day for the Merseysiders.
But a bad day from Liverpool got even worse as Benitez, already missing key striker Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson through injury, saw Danish defender Daniel Agger stretchered off with concussion, while Dutch forward Ryan Babel damaged an ankle.
Yet Benitez is confident his side will bounce back with a winning run once his walking wounded have recovered, and believes Liverpool will still seal a Champions League berth next season despite their poor form.
"You cannot be happy when you draw at home," said Benitez. "You have a game plan, but then you lose Johnson on the morning of the game and then Agger is stretchered off and Babel has to go off as well.
"The positive thing is we showed great character when we went behind.
"You cannot ask for more than that from the players.
"I think we won six games in a row not so long ago and we have to think positive. When we have all our players coming back I am confident we will start winning games in a row.
"City have quality but if we can improve and play at our level, we will finish in the top four."
Benitez is confident England full-back Johnson, who failed a fitness test on a calf injury, will be available to face Debrecen in Hungary on Tuesday, a game Liverpool have to win if they are to have any chance of remaining in the Champions League.
Benayoun, who went off towards the end of the game, should also be fit while Benitez is refusing to rule out Babel and Agger, who needed five stitches in his head wound.
Manchester City manager Mark Hughes said his players had allowed a great chance to beat Liverpool slip.
Martin Skrtel had given the hosts the lead with his first goal for the club before goals by Adebayor and Ireland turned the game in City's favour only for Benayoun to snatch an equaliser.
"In the past City teams would have been happy with a point at Anfield, but we're going home disappointed," said Hughes, who confirmed that Brazil's Robinho is on the brink of returning to action after damaging an ankle.
"At the moment it feels like a chance has been lost."
City have now drawn their last six league matches, but Hughes added: "It is only a matter of time before we start winning again.
"It's not a worry (that City are allowing leads to slip). It's more a frustration.
"We deserved a win against Liverpool. I felt we could have seen the game out after getting our noses in front."