Benitez: Win in Europe to help League game

After all of the recent coverage of Liverpool’s performances in domestic competition, tonight sees the team back in action in Europe. In making comparisons between the two levels and styles of the game, a lot was said about how good Liverpool are in Europe. As European Champions that goes without saying, but Rafael Benitez knows he must be careful not to let his players go into tonight’s match thinking that victory is a foregone conclusion. Rafa wants victory though – if both Liverpool and Chelsea win tonight then Liverpool are guaranteed progress into the last 16 and the knockout phase. That, says Rafa, means he can put more emphasis on the Premiership: “The important thing is to win and then concentrate on other things.”

Rafa was asked what the difference was between the two levels: “The Premiership is physical, while you have to use your brain and muscle together in the Champions League.” It’s certainly true that some of the tactics used in the Premiership would never be tolerated on the continent, but unless FIFA and UEFA decide to step in and demand consistency that’s not likely to change. Liverpool need to get used to that, and if they perform as they did on Saturday they’ve every chance of getting used to it. Rafa says that the reason Liverpool are doing better in Europe is very simple – they are hitting the back of the net more: “We are playing better in the Champions League because we are scoring goals and winning games. We try to play good football in the Premiership as well as in Europe, but the results are what matter.”

The scoring of goals by the Liverpool strikers – or lack of it – is the other main topic on the media agenda right now. One of those strikers is Fernando Morientes, who has actually played on five league games this season, starting four, and yet to score. He started off doing well, when Liverpool were playing in qualifiers for the Champions League. He had scored two goals and had earned a recall to the Spanish squad. An injury whilst with Spain meant he missed games and in turn the sharpness he was starting to show. According to Rafa the sharpness will be back soon, and Moro is trying hard to get onto the score-sheet: “He is an intelligent player and, when he is fit, Fernando can play to a very good level. Sometimes it is difficult to see the confidence in a player, but I know that he is trying to impress. During his time at Madrid, he scored a lot of goals, but he was playing alongside Raul and that is another thing that helps when you are a striker because he always scored and took the pressure off the other forwards.”

Morientes was left in the wilderness at Real last season, and by the time he came to Anfield in the January transfer window he had lost his fitness after having not been used by Madrid. Madrid wanted to sell him, but with a lot of clubs in for him they were trying to persuade him to join other clubs than Liverpool for a higher transfer fee. Morientes stood his ground, and his salary at Anfield is less than it could have been elsewhere, which says a lot about the player, as Rafa explained: “When Morientes joined Liverpool he had a choice of clubs who were prepared to pay him more money. He could have joined Lyon or Monaco, but he wanted to come to Liverpool. He took a pay cut and said he would only be paid in full if he won trophies and scored goals and was given bonuses. That shows everyone the hunger he has to succeed.”

Morientes is suffering from the reputation he brought with him. Expectations are high, but he’s only now getting a real chance to play at full fitness for any length of time. Rafa says that he’s working hard to live up to his reputation: “He has a big reputation and maybe he is trying to start again at Liverpool, but everyone was happy with him on Saturday. He worked very hard and was very unlucky not to score. If you talk to Morientes, there is no doubt how much he wants to succeed at Liverpool.”

Morientes is a hero-in-waiting at Anfield – he’s waiting for more service, but with Kewell getting back to fitness and Zenden showing good form he’s more chance of service from the left. On the right there’s the option of Steven Gerrard, and so the Spaniard could be knocking them in for fun soon. Rafa was delighted to see that the Reds supporters knew how much his countryman had tried on Saturday: “The fans responded to his performance on Saturday when they applauded him off the pitch. They could see he worked hard and that will help his confidence.”

Another compatriot of Rafa’s is Luis Garcia, and he was also lined up for praise from his boss: “A lot of people say Luis gives the ball away too much, but no-one could say that on Saturday. He had a very good game and used the ball in the right way.”