Kiev trip disrupts Benitez's planning

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The Independent Football

The Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes a flawless start to the season is essential for his side to sustain the advantage they enjoyed over Chelsea in Sunday's Community Shield over nine gruelling months in the Premiership. He will have been distinctly unimpressed, therefore, that the opening week of the campaign contains a testing Champions' League date in the Ukraine.

Uefa announced yesterday that Liverpool must play the second leg of their third-round qualifying tie with Maccabi Haifa in Kiev next Tuesday.

The match could throw up more problems than just the travel arrangements after Benitez's side secured only a 2-1 lead over the champions of Israel at Anfield last week.

Having made vociferous protest over the prospect of facing Haifa in Israel, amid the conflict with Lebanon, Liverpool could hardly complain about the switch to a neutral venue, even though Cyprus was the favoured destination before the slender first-leg result. However, coming between the opening Premiership fixtures against Sheffield United and West Ham, the extended journey will require Benitez to employ the rotation policy that put Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Craig Bellamy and Sami Hyypia among his substitutes in Cardiff.

Liverpool won nine League games in succession at the end of last season, but were always trailing Chelsea after collecting maximum points only once from their opening six matches. Rectifying that faltering start has dominated Benitez's pre-season programme this summer.

The Champions' League match will be played at the home stadium of Dynamo Kiev, where Liverpool won a Champions' League group game within days of their then manager Gérard Houllier falling ill with a heart condition in 2001.