The Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow insisted last night that Rafael Benitez's immediate future was safe, despite the club's elimination from the Champions League at the group stage for the first time in the Spaniard's five-year Anfield tenure.
Lyons' defeat by Fiorentina condemned Liverpool to the Europa League, despite their own 1-0 win over Debrecen here. But Purslow said it had "no bearing whatsoever" on the Spaniard's position. "Rafa signed a new five-year deal four months ago and is four months into a five-year journey," he said. "You don't deviate from long-term plans because of two late goals against Lyons."
Benitez said that Liverpool's exit was down to Lyons' two late equalisers at Anfield and Stade Gerland rather than underlying weaknesses. "At least we did our job and won today," he said. "If you analyse the games [against Lyons] – two late goals made a massive difference. We were not worse than the other teams in the games. Yes, we made mistakes in these games in the last minutes – our fault in the end. We're really disappointed because we had chances in the games and we could have won all of them.
"You have to think about the next target. It's not a very bad position we're in. Because we've qualified for five years in a row people think its easy but it's not. You have to be positive and we have a massive game against Everton on Sunday."
Purslow insisted that Liverpool would be a stronger side when players returned from injury. "We've got some heroes out there doing it half fit or with pain-killing jabs to do a job for our club. I came here more in hope than expectation. I like to think we will be taking 40 to 50,000 to Hamburg but it's a missed opportunity financially. The die was cast [with a draw] in Lyons."
Liverpool thought they might have done enough by starting brightly here and scoring through David Ngog – his fifth of the season for the club, which capped an enterprising first half for the player. But elimination was justified. Liverpool's display here was as tepid as in the 1-0 win over Debrecen at Anfield and at no stage throughout the tournament have they suggested that they deserve to be in the knockout stage.
The immediate financial cost to them is as little as £2.6m, as they had only budgeted to reach the last 16, but a longer run could have brought in millions more in revenues and helped the club's pursuit of new equity holders and the £100m they believe they can deliver in new investment for the club.
Liverpool's fate rested on events in Florence where Fiorentina, who scored nine goals against Debrecen over two games, deserved their progress.
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