Benitez confident Reds can raise game

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The Independent Online

Rafael Benitez has promised that Liverpool's Champions League form will be "much, much better" when they aim this week to reach the group stages for the fifth successive time. The Liverpool manager is acutely aware that his side's third qualifying round first-leg display away to Standard Liège earlier in the month was unacceptable and they were fortunate to cling on to a 0-0 draw.

That display in Belgium at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne has put at risk the crucial flow of Uefa prize money Liverpool need, more than ever, to maintain their position among English football's top four. Now Benitez's side must produce their best display of the season so far to make sure that they reach the group stages.

"Our display this time will be much, much better," Benitez said: "Of that I am confident."

Anything less could create the biggest financial crisis in the club's recent history. The American owners are facing huge costs to build a new stadium, and also to refinance loans in the near future. And they have already transferred some of their debt to the club, which means that £30m a year has to be found to meet interest repayments.

In four years, Liverpool have claimed over £100m in prize money from Uefa, averaging more than £20m a season having reached two finals, a semi-final and the last 16 in that time. Failure to even reach the group stages would cost Liverpool an immediate £12m and put in question all Benitez's plans.

Liège, who have never reached the Champions League group stages, have put Liverpool's credibility and finances under great risk with their outstanding performance in their home leg. Now Benitez knows Liverpool must win tomorrow's second leg. He said: "Our performance in Liège was poor, but the result was good. We did not concede an away goal and we hope that playing the second leg at Anfield will make a massive difference.

"The entire team did not play well. They [Liège] were organised, pressed well and were very aggressive."

Recent signing Robbie Keane, still to score for his new club, accepts that despite winning both their opening Premier League games, Liverpool have yet to play well this term. He said: "Football is about winning, it does not matter how well you play so long as you come off the pitch having picked up the points.

"When you do not play as well as you know you can but you are still getting results, then that is a sign of a good team. We have got two wins out of two in the League and that is all you can ask for. Now we will look ahead to the Champions League game against Liège and we know how important it is to make sure we get into the group stages. I am looking forward to being able to play here on a European night."

Defender Jamie Carragher summed up the dressing room view on the tie, saying: "We did not play well in Liège and we know we will have to improve at Anfield. Everyone knows how important it is for our season to get into the group stage. It would be unthinkable for us not to be in the Champions League. As players we expect to be there and so do the fans. We know all the pressure is on us."

Fernando Torres will make his 50th appearance for the club tomorrow, having scored 34 goals. Only George Allan, 111 years ago with 41, scored more in his first 50 Liverpool games.

But Liège, who have never won a European game in England after six attempts, know that only a Jose Reina penalty save from Dante Bonfim stopped them winning the first leg.

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