Benitez hammers home league message

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The Independent Football

With Steven Gerrard talking of his "hunger" for the league title and Rafael Benitez close to agreeing a new contract, West Ham could find this is not the time to be trying to end a 45-year wait for a win at Anfield.

Liverpool have already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League and Benitez now wants his side to concentrate hard on cementing their position in the race for the Premier League title.

The Spaniard said: "We have qualified for the next stage in Europe. Now we have three months to concentrate on the league. We have only lost once in the Premier League this season and we must make sure we continue that level of form."

A poor display in their last home league game allowed Fulham to claim a 0-0 draw, and the midweek victory over Marseilles in Europe was hardly convincing.

Now Liverpool have a run of nine league games before title rivals Chelsea visit Anfield on 1 February, a period in which they should only be troubled when they travel to Arsenal this month and face Everton at home on 19 January.

Liverpool will once again be without the striker Fernando Torres with a hamstring problem and the defender Fabio Aurelio, who has a calf injury. Robbie Keane and Andrea Dossena are expected to come into the side.

The West Ham United manager, Gianfranco Zola, said: "I don't think Liverpool are having their best moment. But we are focused and we know we cannot afford any mistakes. We know a lot about them, we've seen them a lot. And I think we have prepared as well as we can, so we'll see what happens."