Spanish imports allow Benitez to shape own team

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez believes that Liverpool's fortunes are set to improve now that he can finally begin to shape his side in his own way after the influx of £16m of Spanish talent.

The new Anfield coach had to watch a painful performance on Tuesday as Liverpool scrambled their way into the Champions' League group stages, losing 1-0 at home to Graz AK, but clinging on to a narrow aggregate victory.

Benitez was far from happy with the display, but will view with growing interest and confidence today's group stages draw in Monaco because he believes his squad is almost complete now that he has his midfield imports Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia at his disposal. The Spanish duo will be available for Sunday's Premiership trip to Bolton Wanderers and whatever the Champions' League subsequently throws up.

Until now Benitez has been forced to mix and match his side from the remnants of Gérard Houllier's squad, selling leading players and working frantically to bring in new blood before next Tuesday's transfer deadline.

However, he now feels his squad is in place. "This is the real beginning now," he said yesterday. "I have always said we needed time and when we arrived here it was a new staff, new players, one week a new one and the next week another new one.

"Then when you want to work with the players you lose 10 to their national teams, and that is going to happen again next week. One week you have all the players, the next week hardly any. That has given other teams an advantage over us because we are all learning and all in need of time.

"I am happy with the squad I have. I have said if we find new players, not expensive, perhaps we will be interested. But we do not have a lot of time now anyway.

"It is important we have qualified and all players want to play Champions' League football," he added, "and if we decide to go for someone it may help to give them that opportunity, but at the moment we do not have anyone in mind. The problem is we do not have time, the players are not available and we do not have the money.

"All clubs look for good players who are not expensive, we are always looking for that. But maybe now it is looking for the future, not now.

"A player may be perfect for you, but he may be very expensive. It is important to work with the players that we have and I am happy with them. We need more unity between the players and the staff and that will make us play better."

And Benitez believes that his new Spanish signings will not take long to adapt to the Premiership. "Adapting depends on the players," he said. "Sometimes they do not need time and arrive and are playing well in a week. Xabi and Luis will take, I think, one week because they are good players.

"They understand. They have seen a lot of games. They are intelligent and clever players. Some players have their own style and find it difficult to change, but if you are clever you understand something and can put it right straight away.

"Xabi can play centre midfield and Luis can play right or left or second striker. Both have talent and can adapt. Luis has been with several clubs, he is a good scorer and he can battle for the ball and pass well. He is always moving and is sharp and clever.

"He can use right or left foot and it is difficult to find players who can do that. He played as a striker for Barcelona's youth team and as a winger for me at Tenerife. He is a good bet to play anywhere.

"I tried to sign him for Valencia, but the problem was that Barcelona are a very big club. To change from Barcelona to Valencia is very difficult. But now it is Liverpool he said: 'OK, it is a big club and in a big league and I am going to work for a manager who has confidence in me'."

Garcia will play on the right side of midfield at Bolton, and he admits to being happy, at last, to be back playing for Benitez after the spell the pair had together at Tenerife.

"I could have joined the manager when he was at Valencia," he said yesterday. "Now it is important for me to feature in what he is doing at Liverpool, putting together a side to achieve things.

"Little by little we can all work together in the same direction and for something to grow here. We are in the early stages, but there is something good happening here."

Alonso will almost certainly partner the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, in the centre of midfield, and he said: "I have trained now with the players here for a while, and I can see the quality and that people are at a high level, that will help me show my qualities.

"We all have to become a unit and although the Premier League is a little different to Spain, I believe the qualities both myself and Luis have will allow us to compete at the very top.

"I expect us to be challenging the top three of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. They are all very good, but I expect us to be competing for the championship."

So will the Liverpool faithful.