Benitez in pursuit of domestic bliss

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The Independent Online

Liverpool's progress has been too slow this season to satisfy the wild expectations of a European Cup winner, but at least Rafael Benitez now has the answers, if not the solutions, for their continued inconsistency at home and abroad.

The Spaniard's theory for the 11 away defeats that conspired to keep Liverpool out of the qualifying places of the Champions' League competition they won is simple -"We were too nice" - and it is a problem he sought to rectify by signing players of presence in the summer.

As the European champions head for Craven Cottage today, however, one of five grounds where they tasted success on their Premiership travels last season, their fluctuating fortunes remain all too prevalent.

Liverpool have won all games they have played overseas this season, a sequence that includes FBK Kaunas admittedly, but are awaiting their first away win in the League.

"It is a different style of football. In England it is more physical, in Europe it is more tactical," Benitez explained. "It is more difficult to stop a player when he is fighting for the second ball around your box, that's why there are more long balls in England and it is difficult to stop this kind of play. If you can control the game more, then you can create more opportunities and play better. Who controls the game with the long ball? The ball does."

The Liverpool manager counters any suggestion he has not come to terms with the English game with an analysis of his summer transfer policy. Benitez , who is still without his captain, Steven Gerrard, added: "Fighting for the second ball is one area where we need to improve and where we are trying to adapt. We signed Peter Crouch because we needed more options in the air, Jose Reina, who is stronger in his box, Zenden, who is used to the English style, and Sissoko, who is a strong tackler. We were too nice last season but we are stronger now, as Middlesbrough and Birmingham will tell you."

Liverpool lost at the Riverside and St Andrew's last season but gained a point at both this term, and their manager remains convinced that the style that yielded two La Liga championships with Valencia will arrive at Anfield once he has improved his squad further. "People say it will be impossible to play the way we did with Valencia, but with time and with the right players it can be done," he said. "It will be difficult, but it can be done with the right players as Arsenal showed one or two seasons ago."

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