Benitez needs funds for title push next season

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Rafael Benitez evoked one his favoured, if occasionally bizarre, analogies yesterday when he likened his Liverpool side to a "good car" that has survived an arduous race to reduce the gap on the Premiership's leading pack. Hidden within that quaint image, however, was a warning to the Anfield hierarchy that it will require expensive rather than extensive modifications for his vehicle to last the distance in next year's title chase.

The Spaniard has dismissed reports linking him with a move for Raul, insinuating that Real Madrid club politics are behind stories designed to unsettle the striker, yet it is no secret that he wants players of the calibre of his compatriot - with whom he has been friends since his days with Real's youth team - in order to maintain the progress Liverpool have made under his management.

Benitez has achieved his priority for this campaign, which was to narrow the staggering 33-point margin between Liverpool and Chelsea at the end of last season - it is currently 12. He requires only three points from four games to guarantee third place and entry into the Champions' League, a far cry from the efforts of last summer.

It is producing a genuine challenge for the championship that will consume the manager's thoughts once Liverpool's fortunes in the FA Cup have been decided, however, with the Anfield board's ability to attract new investment crucial to his designs.

"We have not only reduced the gap on Chelsea this season but on Manchester United and Arsenal as well," said Benitez, whose side travel to Blackburn tomorrow. "I am delighted with the situation but I want to see us making progress every season. If you have a good car and win an important race but then you go to the next race and finish third then you have to improve your car. We have a good car at the moment but you cannot say you would have done better if only you had done this or that. No.

"We have to sign the players we need and improve the players we have at the moment. Our team spirit is good and you can always improve tactically and physically, but we need to sign the right players."

Benitez's exhaustive search for a winger will end this summer if the Chilean international Mark Gonzalez, currently impressing on loan to Real Sociedad, receives the work permit or Spanish nationality that will enable him to complete his £4.5m transfer from Albacete. Then it is the delicate issue of the Liverpool attack, with Djibril Cissé and Fernando Morientes available for transfer, providing a suitable bidder appears, that must be addressed.

The manager added: "This year it was about the balance of the team and the squad. We had no right winger, but if we sign a good right winger for next season maybe we can improve 20 per cent.

"Maybe that could help us reduce the gap even more and to be a contender, but I'm sure Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Blackburn will be thinking the same. We need to find the players with the right quality."