Benitez plays down meeting

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LIVERPOOL, January 31 – Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insisted he had no definite plans to meet with co-owner Tom Hicks after his side beat Bolton to stay on course for a Champions League spot.Hicks made a rare 5,000-mile visit to Anfield to watch Liverpool maintain their chase for a top four finish thanks to goals from Dirk Kuyt and an own goal from Bolton forward Kevin Davies here on Saturday.

The Texan’s presence came one day after Benitez talked openly about interest in his services from Italian club Juventus, a development that has cast yet more doubt about the Spanish manager’s future on Merseyside.

Yet Benitez claimed no meetings with Hicks had been arranged, although the manager added he would be open to such talks.

"Maybe I will see him. I knew he was here but I was just concerned with what was happening on the pitch," said Benitez. "If he is around, I will see him, no problem."

Hicks’s attendance could also have been related to the transfer window, which closes on Monday, although Benitez insisted he was unlikely to launch a last-minute foray into the market.

"It is not easy to find better players than the players we have at the moment. We are watching players, we are trying to find someone who can be good for the team," he said.

Instead, Benitez looks like attempting to steer this current squad to the promised land of Champions League football and is sticking to his "guarantee" of a top four finish.

"I think we are improving, you can see the team is working very hard and, hopefully, we can keep the momentum," said the Reds boss, whose side are now just a point behind Tottenham, who currently occupy the fourth and final place on offer to English clubs for next season’s Champions League.

"I have to say we can finish in the top four because I am the manager and I have to have confidence.

"If I say ‘no’, the players will say the same. So, I have to say ‘yes, we will finish in the top four’ and I believe it."

Benitez could also take heart from the form of Steven Gerrard.

The England midfielder was clearly unfit for the disappointing midweek draw at Wolves but looked close to his usual form against Bolton.

"He was better and he is trying very hard, that is the main thing," Benitez said.

"Especially when we scored the second goal, the team was playing with more confidence and you could see that he is one of the players who could make a difference for us."

Owen Coyle felt there had been a foul in the build-up to the second Liverpool goal although the new Bolton manager was optimistic that, with talent such as South Korea’s Lee Chung-yong, his team could avoid relegation.

"I don’t want to take anything away from Liverpool but I was disappointed in both goals we gave away," said Coyle, whose side are a point above the bottom three.

"There was a foul by Lucas, who dragged one of our players back at the far post and wherever that shot was going, it certainly wasn’t going into the net until it was deflected.

"In the first half we had some good opportunities. Chung-yong made a terrific run which shows what a talent he is and why I am looking forward to working with him.

"But I’m delighted with how the players have gone about their work since I’ve been here. We’ve played Arsenal twice, Liverpool away and beat Burnley in the week.

"We have moved up from where we were in the table and there is a lot to look forward to. I’ve got real belief we can stay in the Premier League."

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