Benitez salutes Liverpool progress
Rafa Benitez believes Liverpool have laid down a marker with their exploits in the league this season, even if their title bid is likely to end in failure. By the time the Reds kick off at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, their challenge will over if Manchester United have taken a point from their match at home to Arsenal 24 hours earlier.
Even if United lose to Arsenal, they have another chance to get that solitary point they require against Hull City next weekend, but whatever the outcome, Liverpool are on course to register their highest points total in the Premier League era. Their previous best was 82 points in 2006 - Benitez's second season - but with two games left, they are on 80 points and have lost just twice in the league all season.
So while Benitez is frustrated that his team have not quite lasted the distance in the title race, he feels his team have made significant progress during the current campaign. "For us, 80 points is really good - 82 is our best ever total in the Premier League," he said.
"It would be fantastic to match that, although to finish with 86 points would be much better. I am pleased because we have been more consistent. It's very positive and good for the future. We will try to do our job in our remaining games and see what happens."
Liverpool will be boosted by the return of Xabi Alonso against West Brom, after the midfielder missed the 3-0 win at West Ham United with an ankle injury. But despite enjoying his finest season at the heart of Benitez's side, the Spaniard feels that success can only be measured in trophies.
"In terms of the Premier League it has been better than it has before, but if you don't win anything you can't consider it to be a good season," said Alonso. "We have to be disappointed with ourselves, try to be critics and try to analyse the things that we haven't done properly. Of course you also have to think that we have made progress in the Premier League and we have to keep working on this basis, but you also know that success means winning trophies for Liverpool.
"It's very painful to look back and think of the draws that we had and the two defeats also. It's only natural to think where would we be if we had managed to get another good result. But then all the teams in the Premier League can say the same thing."
West Brom's Borja Valero is hoping that a victory against his friend Alvaro Arbeloa can keep alive the tailenders' bid to escape relegation. The duo played together at Real Madrid and have stayed in regular contact after they both moved to the Premier League.
Albion are three points from safety and Valero has even joked, that with Liverpool's title prospects looking slim, he could afford to do his friend a big favour. "I told Alvaro they have no chance of winning the league and to let us have the three points so we can stay up," said the Baggies midfielder.
"It's going to be difficult, probably one of the most difficult games of the year. But we are confident at home at the moment and we need to believe in ourselves and try and win this game. Whatever happens we're going to make it difficult for Liverpool at The Hawthorns."
West Brom manager Tony Mowbray must decide whether to stick with Dean Kiely or recall fit-again Scott Carson in goal, but Graham Dorrans and James Morrison are both out.