Benitez shrugs off Juve distraction

WOLVERHAMPTON, England, Jan 27, 2010 (AFP) - Rafael Benitez insists that speculation surrounding him becoming the new manager of Juventus will not distract him from his task of guiding Liverpool to a top four place this season.

Juventus are reportedly looking to the Spaniard as a possible replacement for under-pressure coach Ciro Ferrara as the uncertainty about Benitez's future at Anfield persists and financial problems tie his hands in the transfer market.

There are even suggestions that the Italian clubs pursuit is so serious they have a contract document already drawn up for Benitez and are confident of luring him away from Merseyside, six years after he moved from Valencia to Anfield.

The leaking of the interest from Turin was not well timed ahead of Tuesday's trip to face Wolves, but Benitez refused to be drawn on the link after the clash with Mick McCarthy's relegation-threatened side ended in a goalless draw.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard (R) is beaten by Wolverhampton Wanderers' Karl Henry during their English Premier League football match at Moulineux Stadium in Wolverhampton, on January 26, 2010. AFP PHOTO

"I prefer to talk about this game and not Juventus. I was really focused on trying to do the right things to win the game," Benitez said after the stalemate at Molineux.

"The most important thing is that we have another point and we have moved closer in the league and that is the thing that I am concentrated on. I don't want to talk about Juventus."

Liverpool are up to fifth in the league and have not lost in their last five top flight games. But they remain three points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham while Manchester City and Aston Villa have games in hand in the battle for the final Champions League qualifying spot.

Benitez however feels the side are still making progress and will get better when Steven Gerrard, who played a full 90 minutes here, regains full match fitness.

Gerrard returned after 14 days out with a hamstring injury and although he was not able to inspire a victory, Benitez added: "It was a clean sheet and I know that people might say that we have missed a chance, but if you look at the game, the result was fair.

"We had Steven Gerrard back and that is good for us. He needs to improve his match fitness. When he does that he can train every day.

"That will mean that he can make a difference. With him in the team we can win the games we need to win to get into the top four."

Benitez also defended his decision not to use Alberto Aquilani. The 20-million-pound midfielder remained on the substitutes bench yet again, and the Spaniard effectively admitted his expensive acquisition could not be trusted in games of a physical nature

"We wanted to go with the team we had," Benitez said. "It was either to play him or Gerrard and Gerrard has power and leverage to change a game and to get forward to score goals. It was a very physical game and the ball was in the air a lot and it suited Gerrard more."

Wolves boss McCarthy can certainly take heart from his team's display even if they are still searching for a solution to their lack of goals and he made no apology for using a five-man midfield to stifle Liverpool.

"I had no alternative, but to play that way," he said.

"Otherwise we would have got slapped, but we deserved a point. We more than deserved a point and that is encouraging. Lets face it, we are playing against Liverpool. They are no mugs."

Source: AFP

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