Liverpool's chance to prove their true worth

Click to follow
The Independent Football

However, the man who guided Liverpool to their fifth European Cup last season, feels his side are still underdogs at this level. Liverpool face an ambitious Real Betis in their opening Group G tie, and the manager said: "Last season people said Liverpool was not the best team in the Champions' League and that made life easier for us because of the way teams prepared against us. It was the same against Juventus, Chelsea and even Milan in the final. I still believe we are underdogs, but because we are champions, life will be very difficult for us."

This group tie marks the end of Liverpool's summer trawling from Lithuania to Bulgaria via Wrexham to claim a place back among Europe's élite . Now the real work begins, to prove they are worthy champions, a status constantly being belittled by the sides they beat last season.

Chelsea's players and manager, Jose Mourinho, believe Liverpool were not the best team in their semi-final and were lucky to win the trophy. Even Milan's Rino Gattuso this weekend declared their penalty shoot-out win a "fluke".

But Benitez said: "I would not say we can't do it again. We did it last season when nobody gave us a chance, and football can produce such surprises again."

But he will find Betis are already in decent form. On Saturday they beat Osasuna in La Liga, following an unlucky 1-0 defeat at Valencia the previous weekend.

Benitez travelled to Monte Carlo last month to see Betis win their third qualifying tie with Monaco 3-2 on aggregate. Only Barcelona have really exposed Betis so far this season, winning the Spanish Super Cup having won 3-0 in Seville before Betis achieved a 2-1 second leg victory. Now in their debut in the Champions' League they will be intent on sending Benitez back to Merseyside empty-handed. "As champions we will find other teams approaching us with greater thought so it will be more difficult for us this time around," added Benitez.

Betis have been hit by the injury to their experienced defender Luis Fernandez, who ruptured a muscle in his left leg in the win over Osasuna and is definitely out of the match. Highly rated winger Joaquin damaged a knee in the same match and is also a doubt.