An early contender for the most distasteful question of the season arrived yesterday from an Israeli journalist who, in light of Uefa's decision that Maccabi Haifa cannot play Liverpool on home soil in their Champions' League qualifier later this month, asked Rafael Benitez: "Why are you so afraid to play in Israel when there have been bombings in London and Madrid?"
Astounded at the attempted comparison the Liverpool manager, born and raised in the Spanish capital, paused for several seconds, replied: "That was completely different," and then moved on to affairs within his sphere of influence and not, in the words of a predecessor at Anfield, matters of life and death.
There is a minimum of £10m available for qualifying for the group stages of the Champions' League, a process that begins for Liverpool against Haifa at Anfield tonight. However obscene that appears alongside the events that prompted Uefa to move the second leg to a neutral venue, it is Benitez's professional obligation to concentrate his thoughts on little else.
With the Liverpool hierarchy still to conclude plans for new investment in the club and having budgeted for Champions' League qualification before they concluded deals for Craig Bellamy, Jermaine Pennant, Mark Gonzalez, Gabriel Paletta and Fabio Aurelio, the FA Cup holders cannot afford, literally, to err against a team that have won the Israeli title for three seasons in succession
Benitez is also planning a second bid for the Feyenoord striker Dirk Kuyt, the prolific marksman he believes can turn an improving squad into one with genuine designs on the Premiership and the subject of a £10m approach from Liverpool earlier this summer.
"The team is almost done. The board know how important this season is for us and they will try to do their best to improve the team if possible," Benitez said. "We have some young players and we have the spine of the team for the next few years and we need to add some quality players if we can."
The remainder of Benitez's transfer budget will also be determined by his success in continuing to off-load many of the disappointments he inherited from Gérard Houllier. Djimi Traoré has completed a £2m move to Charlton, while Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama-Pongolle will be allowed to follow Djibril Cissé, Bruno Cheyrou, Salif Diao and Carl Medjani out of Anfield before the end of August.
However, Benitez cautioned: "This is the most important game we could play at the moment, not because of the money but because we want to win another Champions' League."
Aurelio, Robbie Fowler, Stephen Warnock and Daniel Agger are all injured for the third qualifying round first leg, when Liverpool must rectify the alarming pre-season form that has seen them concede 10 goals in three consecutive defeats. Benitez admitted: "I was worried about the amount of goals we conceded. We made big mistakes but also we had a lot of players who are just back from the World Cup and are not match-fit. It is not normal for Liverpool to concede so many goals but we have a plan to prepare the players and I think they are in good condition now. We cannot make a mistake in this game; we have to win."
Liverpool (probable, 4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Gerrard, Sissoko, Alonso, Zenden; Crouch, Bellamy.
Maccabi Haifa (probable, 4-4-1-1): Davidovich; Harazi, Keznan, Olara, Keysi; Anderson, Dirsao, Masoudi, Bocculi; Katan; Koloati.
* The Hearts defender Ibrahim Tall has been ruled out with a knee ligament injury ahead of the Champions' League third qualifying round, first leg, against AEK Athens tonight. Edgaras Jankauskas returns after a knee injury.Reuse content