Friday, March 19, 2010

Rafa remains cautious after Europa victory

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes his side are more than capable of winning the Europa League but he will not allow his players to get ahead of themselves.

The 3-0 win over Lille at Anfield put them into the quarter-final draw in Nyon.

Liverpool could be drawn against Fulham, Hamburg, Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Standard Liege, Wolfsburg or Valencia.

The Reds will also find out their prospective semi-final opponents as well, mapping out their route to the final in Hamburg, but Benitez said they could not afford to look any further than Sunday's important Barclays Premier League clash at Manchester United.

"We have more confidence but we have to take things one game at a time,'' said the Spaniard, after captain Steven Gerrard's ninth-minute penalty and then Fernando Torres' 16th and 17th goals of the season - and his first in Europe since last April - put his side into the last eight.

Benitez said his star striker was not yet 100% fit but after four goals in his last two matches - he scored twice in Monday's 4-1 Premier League victory over Portsmouth - he is approaching it.

"Torres was working very hard and I am really pleased because he did a fantastic job,'' added Benitez. "Match fitness is something you can only get by playing games. I'd like to say he's 50% [fit] but he is close, it is a question of playing games.

"But I still believe he can improve. You can see there is a big difference when he plays well and it is the same with Gerrard too. It helps the rest of the team to play better. It was a really good performance. We could see the players working really hard together and it was a good night.

"The early goal was important because we knew we had to push forward from the beginning - and that goal gave us more time and confidence. At 2-0 they were still dangerous so we needed the third goal just in case and, when it went in, it was a bit of relief.''

Benitez woke on Thursday morning to stories about winger Albert Riera criticising his management technique and saying Liverpool were a "sinking ship''.

The Reds boss' response was to suspend the Spain international until Monday, when he will report back to the club's Melwood training ground to discover if he will be punished further, but a fine is the very least he can expect.

"The timing was not the best for the team and we will deal with this internally,'' was all Benitez would say on the matter."

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