Benitez holds crisis talks
Rafael Benitez has held talks with his Liverpool bosses over the implications if the club fail to reach the last 16 of this season's UEFA Champions League. Discussions were also held on if the club fail to qualify for next season's lucrative European competition. The Liverpool manager revealed today that the club did not budget this term for anything beyond the group stages. And Benitez insisted he was confident that financial problems next season will be avoided "because we will achieve a top four finish".
Liverpool have never failed to reach the last 16 under Benitez's management, but they are in grave danger of that eventuality now, with qualification from Group E out of their hands after the midweek draw in Lyon. They must hope that Lyon win their next match away to Fiorentina, and that Liverpool win their final two group games to produce the "miracle" Benitez acknowledges they need now.
Reaching the UEFA Champions League next season is also under threat with them currently sixth in the Barclays Premier League, a point behind fourth-placed Manchester City, who are at Anfield on 21 November. Before that, Liverpool face Birmingham at Anfield on Monday, needing to get their current form back on track.
Liverpool face earning £10m less from their European campaign this season if they do not reach the last 16, with another £10m lost if they do not qualify for next season's group stages. Benitez said: "I spoke to Christian Purslow (Liverpool's managing director) the other day about the finances. The first thing, though, is that we have confidence we can still reach the last 16 of the Champions League this season.
"But whatever happens, the budget was done for this season based on us only qualifying for the group stages," he said. "And we did that, that is complete. Whether we can still bring in more money, we will wait and see. The commercial department is working very hard, for the next season (in Europe) it is a question of time.
"The Premier League is a long race, we must keep going. I am confident the team will finish in the top four and we are able to continue to do well in Europe, so let's start against Birmingham with the right result," said Benitez. "We have to do our job against Birmingham and then I can guarantee that things will start to get easier."
Improving their league position would be easier if Benitez could get Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard fit following groin problems. Gerrard seems unlikely to be available for the Birmingham City game, while Torres has a much better chance. Benitez is likely to risk Torres again, following the striker's trip to visit a Spanish specialist on Thursday who is believed to have suggested a three-week break for the club's top scorer.
Benitez also hopes that neither Spain nor England will select Torres and Gerrard for international friendlies next weekend. He wants the pair to have intensive treatment throughout the two-week international break ahead of Manchester City's visit to Anfield.
Benitez has held discussions with Spanish FA officials and believes he has a gentleman's agreement that Torres will not be called up for Spain's home friendly with Argentina next Saturday. Benitez has not held similar conversations with England over Gerrard's fitness. England play Brazil in Doha next weekend, and Benitez would be furious if Gerrard were selected.
For Monday's match, Liverpool have Fabio Aurelio, Albert Riera and Martin Skrtel back in training, although there are still doubts over Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly. Benitez says: "The injury situation is improving; several players have been in light training. But there is a big difference, though, between being fit and being available.
"Gerrard has trained after being unable to do so for 15 days. He cannot be considered to be fit. Torres is a little better. He will train and work with the physios, but whether he will be OK to play against Birmingham, we do not know yet.
"He could play and we must be careful with him," said Benitez. "We will look at the situation after every training session. The experience I have had for many years with this sort of problem is to carry on and see how players react. Some can play all season with the problem, some need to stop and rest. They are all different.
"Torres is the one who can play. He has been in pain, but he wants to play for the team; he has a great mentality. I believe we can carry on with him." Benitez added: "Let us see how we do in the next game, then they will have 15 days of the international break to get fit, then let's see how they are after that."