Benitez sorry for frustrated Liverpool fans

LIVERPOOL - Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez felt sorry for the supporters as their frustration mounted over the team's troubled season, he said on Friday.

Having been eliminated from the Champions League, and all but out of the Premier League title race, Liverpool's campaign reached crisis point when they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship strugglers Reading in midweek.

In shades of his infamous rant at Manchester United counterpart Alex Ferguson a year ago, Benitez produced a piece of paper from his pocket and began reading it at a news conference on the eve of Saturday's league trip to Stoke City.

"Facts. We are not playing well and we feel sorry for our fans," said Benitez with a half-smile. "I have experience as a manager and we know every week things can change in football so we have confidence we will improve.

"I understand journalists have to ask questions but the best thing for me and the team is to prepare for the game properly and then try to start winning games.

"If we lose, everybody loses here - the fans, players, staff and the club. The fans know they have seen us play really well over the last five years and also that we can improve and do better," added the Spaniard.

Liverpool are seventh in the league, 12 points adrift of leaders Chelsea.

BENITEZ RANT

The last time the Merseyside club visited Stoke a year ago they topped of the table but were held 0-0. Soon afterwards they conceded their position at the summit and never properly recovered as they finished runners-up to United.

Before that Stoke game in January, Benitez took a sheet of paper from his pocket and launched into a rant at title rival Ferguson for the United manager's gripe over fixtures.

Benitez has been popular among fans who will always treasure the Champions League final comeback win over AC Milan in 2005 but he was among the targets when the boos cascaded from the stands at the end of Wednesday's defeat by Reading.

That third round FA Cup replay defeat at home was too much for former Liverpool player Ronnie Whelan, who won six titles and the European Cup during a 15-year career at Anfield.

Whelan has called for Benitez to be replaced, although it seems Liverpool's hierarchy plan to stick with their manager, at least for the time being.

The pressure is building, though, especially with Fernando Torres and captain Steven Gerrard, two of his most influential players, out injured.

Spain striker Torres will be out for up to six weeks after damaging his knee against Reading while their England midfielder Gerrard is out for two weeks with a hamstring injury.

Israel midfielder Yossi Benayoun is also out for about a month with a fractured rib.

The arrival of Argentina winger Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid this week has almost gone unnoticed in all the drama.

Rodriguez, who has signed a 3-1/2 year contract, was introduced to the media on Friday but Benitez may delay handing him his debut until next week.