Rush tells Liverpool fans to back Benitez

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool great Ian Rush has urged supporters to row in behind under-fire boss Rafael Benitez as the Spaniard prepares his struggling side for Sunday's home clash with bitter rivals Manchester United.

Tuesday's 2-1 Champions League defeat by Lyon here at Anfield meant Liverpool had lost four games in a row for the first time since 1987 and left the five-times European champions struggling to qualify for the knockout phase.

The fact that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard suffered a recurrence of his groin injury 24 minutes into the Lyon match, while injured Spain striker Fernando Torres didn't play at all because of a groin problem, also led to fresh criticism of Benitez for allowing the club to become over-reliant on their two star players.

It is 19 years since Liverpool last won the English title and pressure is building on Benitez, in charge at Anfield since 2004.

He guided the Reds to their fifth European Cup crown in 2005 but that success is receding into the memory of fans who've seen their side lose four of their nine league matches so far this season, including last weekend's 1-0 beach ball assisted defeat by Sunderland, to lie seven points behind leaders and reigning champions United.

But former Wales striker Rush, a key member of the Liverpool side that dominated English football during the 1980s, told Sky Sports here on Wednesday: "Right now is the time when you need to get behind the manager, and the players as well.

"I'm sure the supporters will do on Sunday but then it's up to the players to respond. The manager can only pick a team. It's up to the players to respond on the pitch.

"Okay, we lost against Lyon but we can still qualify for the second phase of the Champions League. It's when you can't do that, then you maybe start looking (at the manager)," Rush added.

A boost for Benitez was that England defender Glen Johnson, who missed the Lyon match, is set to return against United, who lost 2-1 at Anfield last season in a match where neither Gerrard nor Torres started.

Despite Liverpool's recent run of results, Benitez's position does not appear under immediate threat if only because of the boardroom spat between the club's feuding American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Hicks has been a strong supporter of Benitez, who signed a new four-year contract in March, while Gillett has criticised the former Valencia manager's spending this season.

Both men would have to agree to the sacking of Benitez and, given their frosty relationship, that seems unlikely.

Meanwhile former Liverpool manager Roy Evans said the players, rather than Benitez, "had to look at themselves".

Evans, whose four-year spell in charge ended in 1998, admitted: "The results have put a lot of pressure on.

"But they are still in the Champions League and can still get second place (in the group), but there has to be an improvement, that's for sure.

"Rafa has always been tactically very strong in Europe, but when you lose your best players, like Gerrard, Torres and Johnson, that is a real problem.

"Without them Liverpool struggle to compete, with them they are a good bet to recover their position in the group.

"You cannot always blame the manager, players have to improve," added Evans.

"A good result will change everything. A win against Manchester United could be the victory that gives Liverpool their confidence back."