Benitez still reeling

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LIVERPOOL, March 10 – Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was still trying to come to terms with the Reds shattering 1-0 loss to Wigan as he tried to rouse his players for Thursday's Europa League tie against Lille.Defeat by Wigan – Liverpool’s ninth Premier League defeat of the season – left the Merseysiders sixth in the table.

Although they are only a point off the fourth place finish that Benitez "guaranteed" this season, which would secure a place in next season’s Champions League, Liverpool’s rivals for a top four spot – Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Aston Villa – all have games in hand over the Merseysiders.

"It depends on us," Benitez said. "If we don’t show we can beat teams then at the end it will be the same (as the Wigan result)" he said.

"When you lose you have to be disappointed but the way you lose is sometimes more important and in the first half we were just not good enough.

"I was surprised. I don’t know, really I don’t. I cannot understand it."

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan laid the blame for Liverpool’s demise at the hands of bickering American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

"The big sympathy I have is for the Liverpool supporters because they are a fantastic lot," Whelan told Sky Sports.

"Liverpool are in a mess. The owners, being American, I don’t think they feel what we (British club owners) feel.

"I’m really, really sorry for their supporters. We went to Anfield earlier in the season and there’s absolutely no atmosphere and no heart at all at present," Whelan added.

"The supporters feel that and I think the players are starting to feel it."

Liverpool now travel to France to face Lille in the last 16 of European football’s second tier club competition with their Spanish manager insisting: "We have to do it (against Lille) and I believe in the players."

But Dutch striker Ryan Babel, one of several Benitez signings who’ve failed to justify their price tags since arriving at Anfield, admitted that, with nine league matches left, Liverpool’s confidence was at a low ebb.

"It will be harder in every game. It was going to be difficult even before this game," said Babel, an 11-million-pounds (16-million-dollars) signing from Ajax in 2007.

"One defeat seems to spoil all the confidence that we have and then we have to start again."

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun is doubtful for the trip to Lille after suffering an ankle injury at Wigan which forced the Israel international to miss training on Tuesday.

However, centre-back Daniel Agger should be fit after recovering from the illness which saw him become a mere unused substitute against Wigan.

"We had some problems with Agger. He was sick and lost some weight," said Benitez. "We had to be careful with him but he’s training now so hopefully will be okay.

"Benayoun had a problem with his ankle. We have to see – we have one more day. He wasn’t training today so we have to decide."

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