Benitez admits to Liverpool weaknesses

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The Independent Football

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has admitted weaknesses in his squad have cost the club dearly this season, particularly in the Barclays Premier League campaign.

Injuries - primarily to star striker Fernando Torres - have played their part in a disappointing campaign which has seen early exits from the title race, Champions League and FA Cup.

And while the 3-0 victory over Sunderland on Sunday showed what a fully-fit, firing full-strength side can do there have been too many occasions when Benitez has had to call on fringe players.

As if Torres' absences were not enough - he struggled with a hernia problem before Christmas and then had knee surgery in January which kept him out for five weeks - right-back Glen Johnson missed nearly two months with a knee problem while Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun also have had issues.

Defenders Fabio Aurelio (thigh) and Martin Skrtel (foot) were joined on the sidelines yesterday by £17million summer signing Alberto Aquilani and teenage right-back Martin Kelly (knee).

Some of Benitez's less-celebrated signings - the likes of Albert Riera, Ryan Babel, Philipp Degen and David Ngog - have failed to fully fill the void and that has cost the team valuable points.

"Everyone knows we have a good 11. You can see some good players on the bench but also others with less experience," said Benitez, whose side face Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final first leg in Lisbon tonight.

"When you talk about the league the depth in your squad is very important and we have had problems with injuries.

"It has been a difficult season for young players as well because they have had to perform on the pitch when the team is not doing well.

"The majority of the players have been fighting from the beginning but the problem in football is you can be working very hard but if you don't win people say you are not doing enough."

Benfica, the Portuguese league leaders, present difficult opposition and despite Liverpool's route to the final in Hamburg being mapped out for them - they would face Benitez's former side Valencia or Torres' ex-team-mates from Atletico Madrid in the semis - the Spaniard refuses to look beyond tonight's game.

"We have to have confidence that we can win but my idea is to take it one game at a time," he added.

"We have a very difficult tie and if we can progress Valencia or Atletico will be dangerous but you never know - we are in form now too so hopefully we can do well, be in the final and win.

"If we can keep this spirit and mentality we can beat anyone."

Benfica ended Liverpool's hopes of being the first club to successfully defend the Champions League when they won both legs of their last-16 clash in the 2005/6 season.

Forward Dirk Kuyt, who joined the club the following year, is eagerly anticipating the encounter.

"Benfica are a very good team. They are top of the league in Portugal and we look forward to a good game," he said.

"I wasn't here the last time we played them, we just want to forget that and win this game."

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