LIVERPOOL, November 20 – Rafael Benitez believes Liverpool can kickstart their season with a win over Manchester City at Anfield on Saturday.
City’s lavishly-financed bid to climb to the peak of the Premier League has stalled due to five successive league draws.
But if manager Mark Hughes thinks he is under pressure, he should spare a thought for his opposite number Benitez.
Liverpool have grown accustomed to mixing it with Europe’s best in the money-spinning environment of the Champions League.
But the wheels have come off badly this season with the Reds on the verge of elimination from Europe’s elite competition and, even more worryingly for the club’s owners, in danger of failing to secure a return to it for next season.
A run of one win in nine matches in all competitions has seen Benitez seriously questioned by sections of the club’s fanbase for the first time since he arrived at Anfield in 2004.
Furthermore, with five Premier League losses already this season, a first domestic title since 1990 looks a remote prospect.
Another home defeat would deepen the sense of crisis at the club but Benitez maintains the season can still be turned around.
"We have to look at the big picture," the Spaniard said. "We know we’ve had some problems and we’ve made some mistakes, but still we are so close.
"Maybe we can start the season right now. Winning against City will be a big boost for everyone and if that happens I’m sure we’ll see the best of the team.
"I am 100 per cent sure everything will be totally different if we can win the game against City after this international break. The season can be good if we do well."
One reason for the club’s woes has been the absence of talisman Steven Gerrard, who has played just 70 minutes since injuring his groin playing for England on October 10.
He was forced into action from the bench against Birmingham earlier this month — scoring a crucial penalty in a 2-2 draw — but will have benefited from nearly two weeks of rest during the international break.
Gerrard said: "It took me two or three days to recover from that game but I have spent the past week doing strengthening work and I’m feeling a lot better now. I’m looking forward to the weekend."
One man who is likely to come in for barracking from the home crowd is City midfielder Gareth Barry.
His former club Aston Villa turned down repeated approaches for him from Benitez in the summer of 2008 and he had been expected to join Liverpool this year only to opt for the more lucrative deal on offer at City.
But Barry, who has a slight soreness in his groin following his international duty with England against Brazil last weekend, is unfazed by the proposition of playing on Merseyside.
"The first part of the season is always tough if you have international football as well," Barry said.
"I’ve played in a few games for England plus all the games for City, so in a way it feels like Christmas should be just around the corner.
"But now there’s no international games until March, and I’m looking forward to getting a few months of solid work in with the lads here.
"All everyone is thinking about now is the Liverpool game and taking it from there if we can get a good result."
Alberto Aquilani, the midfielder Benitez bought for 20 million pounds in the summer as a replacement for Xabi Alonso, is in contention for his first Liverpool start.
The Italy international has made just two substitute appearances after six months battling an ankle injury that required surgery and Benitez has indicated that he is most likely to be on the bench again.
Nedum Onouha is winning his battle against a thigh strain for City but Hughes will be without Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov, who has a knee problem.