Mourinho's jibe 'a compliment', says Benitez

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The Independent Football

For once, however, Rafael Benitez has allowed criticism from Jose Mourinho to distract him from the task at hand, as a manager with a 3-1 lead over the champions of Lithuania can perhaps afford to do.

The Chelsea manager gave his considered response last week to Steven Gerrard's decision to remain at Anfield when he insisted the England midfielder, and his trophy cabinet, would live to regret rejecting the prospect of a move to Stamford Bridge for a second summer in succession. Forthright opinions from Mourinho are hardly rare but, for a manager charged with channelling the optimism of a Champions' League triumph into a genuine attempt at domestic glory, it is a badge of honour Benitez was quick to accept yesterday.

The Liverpool manager said: "I like it when others talk about us, because it proves they are thinking of Liverpool and shows we are better than last season. It is a compliment when they talk about us like this, and I know that we are stronger than before. I am convinced we are a better side than last season, and these comments on us prove it.

"We are European champions and have Steven Gerrard as well, which proves we have more strength. Stevie will be even more focused this season and you have seen in the qualifying games in Europe so far that he is playing well and scoring goals. I think that the other clubs know we will be more dangerous opponents than last season."

Gerrard could be rested from the second leg because of an ankle problem as Benitez prepares to rotate his side and protects his captain for the Premiership campaign. "I know the fans want us to fight for the Premier League, but I want to fight for all the trophies," he said. "We want to be in the top four, and then we can fight for first, second or third. But we do want to be talking of titles and winning things."

Liverpool will face another trip to eastern Europe should they complete their victory over Kaunas, with CSKA Sofia the likely destination in round three on account of their 2-0 first leg lead over Tirana of Albania.

Benitez, meanwhile, has not given up hope of a breakthrough in his pursuit of Luis Figo after the Real Madrid midfielder's move to Internazionale stalled.

Liverpool (probable, 4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Potter, Alonso, Hamann, Zenden; Cissé, Crouch.

FBK Kaunas (probable, 4-4-2): Kurskis; Kancelskis, Baguzis, Zelmikas, Manchkhava; Tamosauskas, Poderis, Pacevicius, Barevicius; Klimek, Rimkevicius.