Benitez seeks to strike swift blow against Welsh Davids

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The Independent Football

Liverpool upset too many odds throughout last season's triumphant Champions' League campaign for their astute manager to believe in foregone conclusions but, privately, even Benitez must concede that when Total Network Solutions of Llansantffraid accept the role of David to his Goliath at Anfield tonight, they do so without a sling.

A mere 49 days since the extraordinary events of Istanbul, Liverpool launch their European Cup defence against the Welsh Premier League team with a weekly wage bill of £7,000. It could be, as the TNS manager Ken McKenna admitted, "the biggest mismatch in football history", but Benitez has not forgotten the merits of a status he used to Liverpool's advantage only two months ago.

"I don't like to think of this game as David against Goliath, because David won," he said. "It was the same for us in the Champions' League. Against Juventus, Chelsea and Milan we were always David, yet we won every time.

"We must be careful. We won't have the pace we need to play an important game at this stage of the season but we do have the quality and we have to make that count. For TNS this is a final, and it might be their most important game all season. I know their manager is calling it a mismatch but you never know what will happen. Hopefully, I can agree with him afterwards."

Out of respect for opponents who will field more Scousers than he will in the first qualifying round, first leg, and perhaps to retain a competitive edge, Benitez was keen to talk up his own problems in preparing for this clash of styles, if not cultures. There are no aerial videos or computer graphics analyses, only homemade videos taken from the touchline of The Recreation Ground in north Wales.

The Liverpool manager stressed: "We haven't prepared as I would have liked for this game; our international players have only been back one week and they looked very tired after the game at Wrexham on Saturday."

Benitez may be preaching caution but he is demanding ruthlessness. The Liverpool manager hopes to avoid any further disruption to his pre-season plans and to head for a Swiss training camp later this week with progress to the second round assured in advance of next week's return fixture.

Liverpool are not only keen to illustrate their superiority at the expense of TNS. There has been a diplomatic silence at Anfield over Uefa's decision to grant them entry into this season's Champions' League as holders, albeit at the earliest stage of all.

Bolo Zenden and the £6m goalkeeper Jose Reina are expected to make their competitive debuts for Liverpool, although Milan Baros is likely to miss out, a decision that will raise fresh doubts over his Anfield future. Fernando Morientes will make his first Champions' League appearance for the club.

Should Liverpool need any motivation, the TNS midfielder and lifelong Liverpool fan Steven Beck gave it to them yesterday.

"There are some players at Liverpool who are world class," he said, "but I reckon a quarter of the team would not be good enough to get in the great sides of the past. I still get to as many games as I can and you can see certain players who just go through the motions. They don't appear interested and are just picking up their wages."

Liverpool (probable): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Potter, Gerrard, Hamann, Zenden; Morientes, Cissé.

TNS (probable): Doherty; Baker, Evans, Jackson, Ward, Wood, Beck, Leah, Ruscoe, Lawless, Toner.