Benitez puts faith in new-look strike duo

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The Independent Online

In a Belgian city famous for its gunsmiths, Rafael Benitez will learn a little more tonight about whether the two strikers he has brought together can fire Liverpool to the place where every elite European side wants to be: Rome's Stadio Olimpico, eight and half months from now.

Benitez, whose side must overcome the Belgian champions Liège to make it to the Champions League, accepts that Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane are far from the finished article, their time together having been limited to 45 minutes in each of the pre-season friendlies against Villareal and Lazio. "The only thing is that because they have not been training [for long] and working together, they need more time," he said. Benitez remains unconcerned about the fact that he has not had the opportunity to settle them into a fixed formation. "Both are clever players. It doesn't matter what position they are playing in," he said.

But Benitez's fifth season as Liverpool manager begins with as many uncertainties as ever, Gareth Barry being foremost among them and he is apparently no nearer to becoming a Liverpool player because of the reluctance of the club's owners to cough up a cash advance.

Benitez's simmering indignation over the situation stores up more potential for division at Anfield in the weeks ahead. For now, though, there is tonight's encounter to contend with, against a side who lost only one league game on their way to a first Belgian title in 25 years last season.

Liverpool might have Steven Gerrard in their starting line-up. He trained here last night and Benitez said he was "hopeful" he might well play, having recovered quickly from the thigh strain incurred against Valerenga in pre-season.

Benitez admits has not seen as much of Liège as he would have liked "They have a few interesting players," he said. But he will have made his players aware of the home side's strike partnership of Zaire's Dieumerci Mbokani and the Serb Milan Jovanovic.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Dossena; Kuyt, Plessis, Alonso, Benayoun; Keane, Torres.

Standard Liège (4-4-2): Espinoza; Marcos, Sarr, Fellaini, Dante; Dalmat, Witsul, Defour, Toama; Mbokani, De Camargo.

Referee: T Hening Ovrebo (Norway).

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