Benitez makes Champions League vow

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The Independent Online

Rafael Benitez has vowed to take Liverpool back into the Champions League as they prepare for the embarrassment of a dead rubber against Fiorentina tomorrow.

Liverpool are already out of this season's competition having failed to finish in the top two in Group E, a humiliating experience for the five-time European Cup winners.

That will truly hit home at Anfield against an impressive Italian side who beat the Reds 2-0 in September at the start of a terrible run for Benitez and his side.

Liverpool had won six on the trot ahead of the match in Florence, but have managed just two wins in 13 since.

Benitez will finally give £20million midfielder Alberto Aquilani his full debut tomorrow, four months after he arrived at the club, but that could well be the only thing to brighten the night for the Liverpool fans.

Benitez knows that the only way to get back into next season's Champions League is to finish in the top four of the Barclays Premier League, on current form not an easy task.

But he said: "I am convinced we will have Champions League football back here next season.

"We have a good team, a good squad and we can win games in a row now. We have not lost in six and kept three consecutive clean sheets, that is positive and an improvement on what was happening a few weeks ago.

"We know what it means to play in the Champions League. The players certainly understand.

"We have the right experience and I am confident we will finish in the top four, at least, so we must concentrate on our league games to achieve that.

"We have Arsenal next, then Wigan in midweek before Portsmouth away the following Saturday. We must win those games to get ourselves back into a strong position to make sure we do qualify for the tournament next season."

Benitez may rest Jose Reina, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun and added: "Some players will get the chance of a game to impress, people like Aquilani who will start the match. There could be others who have not played yet in the first team.

"Alberto understands. When a player has been out for a long time you must keep building his fitness. We have tried to play him in reserve games but they have been cancelled because of the weather.

"He has trained well now for a few weeks, but it is not the same as matches and we have had to be careful with him because of the ankle operation he had.

"It was wrong to play him in difficult, physical, games against Everton and Blackburn. We have been waiting for the right moment.

"Games that are tough and tight would have been difficult. Now he can play in a game where the pressure is not the same.

"He has understood the problems, he can see his match fitness is not right. He has waited for his chance and now it has arrived.

"This game will be good for him and the team. We can play without pressure, play well and score goals."

Striker Fernando Torres will also return to the squad but will start on the bench after his lengthy recovery from a groin problem.

Benitez said: "Fernando will not start the match, he has not been involved for a few weeks so it would be a risk to put him straight into the side.

"He will play some minutes, I am not sure yet how many, then he may be involved against Arsenal on Sunday.

"We want to win every game in front of our fans at Anfield, we must do well and then win against Arsenal here on Sunday.

"Of course I am disappointed with this situation. Over the last five years we have always qualified for the last 16, sometimes before the last group game.

"Now we are experiencing totally different feelings, but it is done now, we cannot change the position we are in.

"We now must think about the future, to do our best in the Premier League and the Europa League. We must do our best in whatever competition we are in."

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