Liverpool forward Ryan Babel has caused manager Rafael Benitez a few problems over the last couple of months but he may just provide him with an unexpected solution as the race for Champions League qualification hots up.

The Holland international was linked with a move in the January transfer window when the club turned down a £9million bid from Birmingham but the player appeared to be doing his best to manufacture an exit.

A series of ill-advised outbursts on Twitter – one in which, more than 24 hours before kick-off, he revealed he had been left out of the squad for the match at Stoke – resulted in a severe dressing down from the manager.

Since then he has been restricted to only 71 minutes’ pitch time in four substitute appearances but it seems the 23-year-old may be about to turn yet another corner in a disappointing career at Anfield.

He looked dangerous when he came off the bench in last week’s defeat at Arsenal, where he was denied an equaliser only by Manuel Almunia’s fingertip save onto the crossbar.

And he was Liverpool’s biggest threat by far during a 27-minute Europa League run-out in which he set up the only goal for David Ngog against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday.

Benitez has seen a change in Babel’s attitude and is hopeful the improvement continues.

„He was doing well in training sessions. He wants to impress now and you could see he was a threat from the beginning,” said the Spaniard.

„Babel’s fresh legs with pace was a different approach and it was good for us. I was really pleased with him.”

Whether Benitez has the confidence to select the temperamental forward for Sunday’s crucial Barclays Premier League clash at fourth-placed Manchester City is open to debate.

Babel has not started a match since November 21 – coincidentally in the 2-2 draw against City – and his inconsistent form means the Reds boss is more likely to go with a player like Fabio Aurelio who offers him more stability.

With City one point ahead with a match in hand, it is imperative Liverpool do not lose.

However, Benitez believes tomorrow’s result will not have a defining effect on the outcome of the race for fourth place.

„We know it will be an important game for both and it will be difficult,” said the Reds boss, whose side’s seven-match unbeaten league run was ended by the Gunners just over a week ago.

„They have some good players and have not lost at home so we will see if we can change this.

„They are a good team but we are in a good moment now. We have confidence and we have to stick together and work hard like in the last few games.

Benitez thinks the fact more than two teams are challenging for the final Champions League berth is actually preferable to a straightforward head-to-head.

He is confident the fact Liverpool have consistently finished in the top four will benefit his side when the pressure begins to increase.

„This year we have Tottenham, Aston Villa and City fighting for fourth but our experience will be good for the end of the season,” he said.

„If we are in this position, it is because we have made too many mistakes.

„We have had a difficult season but we are in a position now and it depends on us to improve.

„Sometimes it is better because the rivalry between teams means they can lose points and that is better than to fight against one team.

„At this moment playing against City is the most important because we have already played against Tottenham and Aston Villa (twice).

„We have a lot of games to play and every game will be important, especially when you play against a team who is near you in the table.

„We will see if we can do our job and they can lose some points along the way.

Read the article on sportinglife.com

BABEL SHOWING ENCOURAGING SIGNS

Liverpool forward Ryan Babel has caused manager Rafael Benitez a few problems over the last couple of months but he may just provide him with an unexpected solution as the race for Champions League qualification hots up.

The Holland international was linked with a move in the January transfer window when the club turned down a £9million bid from Birmingham but the player appeared to be doing his best to manufacture an exit.

A series of ill-advised outbursts on Twitter – one in which, more than 24 hours before kick-off, he revealed he had been left out of the squad for the match at Stoke – resulted in a severe dressing down from the manager.

Since then he has been restricted to only 71 minutes’ pitch time in four substitute appearances but it seems the 23-year-old may be about to turn yet another corner in a disappointing career at Anfield.

He looked dangerous when he came off the bench in last week’s defeat at Arsenal, where he was denied an equaliser only by Manuel Almunia’s fingertip save onto the crossbar.

And he was Liverpool’s biggest threat by far during a 27-minute Europa League run-out in which he set up the only goal for David Ngog against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday.

Benitez has seen a change in Babel’s attitude and is hopeful the improvement continues.

„He was doing well in training sessions. He wants to impress now and you could see he was a threat from the beginning,” said the Spaniard.

„Babel’s fresh legs with pace was a different approach and it was good for us. I was really pleased with him.”

Whether Benitez has the confidence to select the temperamental forward for Sunday’s crucial Barclays Premier League clash at fourth-placed Manchester City is open to debate.

Babel has not started a match since November 21 – coincidentally in the 2-2 draw against City – and his inconsistent form means the Reds boss is more likely to go with a player like Fabio Aurelio who offers him more stability.

With City one point ahead with a match in hand, it is imperative Liverpool do not lose.

However, Benitez believes tomorrow’s result will not have a defining effect on the outcome of the race for fourth place.

„We know it will be an important game for both and it will be difficult,” said the Reds boss, whose side’s seven-match unbeaten league run was ended by the Gunners just over a week ago.

„They have some good players and have not lost at home so we will see if we can change this.

„They are a good team but we are in a good moment now. We have confidence and we have to stick together and work hard like in the last few games.

Benitez thinks the fact more than two teams are challenging for the final Champions League berth is actually preferable to a straightforward head-to-head.

He is confident the fact Liverpool have consistently finished in the top four will benefit his side when the pressure begins to increase.

„This year we have Tottenham, Aston Villa and City fighting for fourth but our experience will be good for the end of the season,” he said.

„If we are in this position, it is because we have made too many mistakes.

„We have had a difficult season but we are in a position now and it depends on us to improve.

„Sometimes it is better because the rivalry between teams means they can lose points and that is better than to fight against one team.

„At this moment playing against City is the most important because we have already played against Tottenham and Aston Villa (twice).

„We have a lot of games to play and every game will be important, especially when you play against a team who is near you in the table.

„We will see if we can do our job and they can lose some points along the way.

Read the article on sportinglife.com

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