Benitez brushes off speculation

Reds boss was not interested in re-signing Owen

Benitez: Focused on United

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Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has ignored speculation over his future as preparations continue for Sunday's clash with Manchester United.

The Red Devils will arrive at Anfield hoping to pile more misery on their fierce North West rivals, who are in their worst run of form for 22 years.

Defeats to Fiorentina, Chelsea, Sunderland and Lyon have left Liverpool struggling at home and abroad, while also sparking rumours Benitez could be facing the sack.

But the former Valencia boss maintains that he has blocked out all conjecture regarding his job as he plots United's downfall.

He is quoted as saying by the Daily Mail at a Friday press conference: "I have not read any of it. It doesn't matter that there is speculation all over the place, I have stayed well away from it.

Gameplan

"I can guarantee you that I spent yesterday with my family. It was good spending some time with them and watching some videos."

Benitez is set to hand star duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres late fitness tests before the visit of United as the pair recover from injury.

But the Spaniard's main focus is on preparing a team which can defeat United as Liverpool bid to reignite dwindling hopes of winning the Premier League.

He said: "I have experience of being in this sort of position and how it should be handled and I know the only thing you can do is prepare a gameplan for the next match and make sure you are positive for your players.

"You have to put the right message across and I have been telling them about winning games before without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres and how they can do it again, if need be. They have shown they are not as bad a team as people are making out."

No problems

Benitez also had praise for centre-back Jamie Carragher, who has seen his form questioned this season.

The Reds boss said of the defender: "He has been extremely positive. There have been no problems with Carra at all and I think his game has actually picked up recently."

Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen is set to make his first appearance at Anfield since joining United in the summer following stints at Real Madrid and Newcastle.

But Benitez, who sold the 29-year-old to Real in 2004, has hinted that he was not interested in resigning the forward this summer.

"I had a lot of good players in my squad before and I have now," he said. "It was not my decision that he joined Manchester United, it was his.

"All I will say is I am really happy with Fernando Torres. Dirk Kuyt is a fantastic striker and David (Ngog), Andriy Voronin and Ryan Babel will be helping the team in the future. So I am really happy with the strikers I have got."