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Under-fire Benitez backed by Liverpool co-owner

  • Story Highlights
  • Liverpool co-owner George Gillett comes out in support of manager Rafael Benitez
  • Spaniard is under pressure from club's fans after a poor start to the season
  • The 49-year-old signed a lucrative long-term contract at Anfield in March
  • Summer signing Alberto Aquilani makes first appearance for reserves
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(CNN) -- Under-pressure Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has received the backing of the club's co-owner George Gillett amid speculation that the Spaniard is battling to keep his job.

Manager Rafael Benitez signed a lucrative new long-term contract with Liverpool in March.

Manager Rafael Benitez signed a lucrative new long-term contract with Liverpool in March.

The English side have had a disappointing start to the season, with last weekend's controversial defeat at Sunderland their fourth in nine Premier League outings -- double that of the 2008-09 campaign.

Tuesday's Champions League reverse at home to Lyon raised the possibility that the 2005 European champions -- a title achieved in Benitez's first season in charge -- will not qualify for the knockout stages.

American billionaire Gillett and co-owner Tom Hicks have previously publicly crossed swords with Benitez over matters such as transfer budgets, and admitted to meeting former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann in January 2008 as the club seemed set for a management change.

But Gillett has come out in support of the 49-year-old, who signed a new five-year contract in March.
Blog: Benitez only has himself to blame.

"We have just entered into a long-term agreement with Rafa," he told Liverpool's official Web site. "Our family is extraordinarily pleased with him, we think he is absolutely as good as there is in the business and I am sure the Hicks' feel the same way. We just extended his contract.

"I think the run of results disappoints everybody. Certainly, it disappoints the fans and it disappoints Rafa. I know he is disappointed. We are all disappointed, but we are in this together."

While public backing from a chairman is usually seen as a kiss of death for managers, in this case it could be genuine as cash-strapped Liverpool are unlikely to want to pay out the remaining four and a half years of Benitez's contract -- which would reportedly cost about $33 million.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's injury-hit squad received a boost when summer signing Alberto Aquilani made his first appearance for the reserves on Wednesday night.

The Italy midfielder, who cost around $29 million from Roma, came on as a 75th-minute substitute in the 2-0 win over Sunderland.

He has been recovering from a knee operation in March, and is expected to fill the gap left by Xabi Alonso's departure to Real Madrid.

However, he will not be ready for Sunday's home clash with league leaders Manchester United, and Benitez may also be without captain Steven Gerrard following the England midfielder's injury setback against Lyon.

However, Spain striker Fernando Torres and England defender Glen Johnson should return from injuries for a match which could prove a turning point in Liverpool's season -- or completely snuff out their title hopes.

All About Rafael BenitezGeorge GillettAlberto AquilaniLiverpool FCOlympique LyonnaisEuropean Football

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