18 September 2007

We are going for a Premier League and European Cup double, pledges Benítez

The Guardian

Milan's revenge provided Liverpool with their greatest disappointment in the Champions League last season but the fact that there was no title challenge was not far behind. This season, Rafael Benítez accepts, shall and must be different.
The Liverpool manager begins his campaign to reach a third European Cup final in four seasons here in Porto tonight and - as is to be expected from a man with such a distinguished record, a lavishly assembled squad and an unbeaten start to a campaign that has fuelled talk of a tilt at the Premier League - trademark conservatism has been replaced by heightened and public optimism in the Spaniard.
"I think we have the squad to compete for both the Premier League and the Champions League now but we will only discover how strong it is during the season," said Benítez last night. "The squad is certainly good enough but you also need luck during the season and things to go in your favour."
No player better illustrates the increase in expenditure and quality at the club this summer than the record signing Fernando Torres, with the £26.5m centre-forward expected to get the chance to showcase his talents in the Champions League at Estadio do Dragao. The competition proved elusive to the 23-year-old while with Atlético Madrid but with three Premier League goals to his name and having been rested for 62 minutes at Portsmouth on Saturday, his curtain call awaits tonight.
"The chance to play regularly in the Champions League was one of the reasons Fernando decided to come to a top side," said Benítez, who arrived in Portugal without the injured John Arne Riise, Mohamed Sissoko and Xabi Alonso, who limped out of training last night. "Mentally he is ready. When you can play as well as he has done in the Premier League then you can play in Europe no problems. He is only 23 but his problem was that he was in the Atlético team since the age of 17 and was waiting for them to get into the Champions League. Now he has the opportunity to show what he can do at this level."
Last season Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho argued Liverpool's success in the Champions League owed as much to the physical condition of a team without title demands upon them as the quality of their players and management. "I don't think we reached two finals because we only concentrated on one competition," said Benítez. "In the first year we won the Champions League while fighting for a top four place. Everton were losing towards the end but we couldn't do it. Now we have better players and when I change them around the difference [in the team] is not so big."
Rotation was once the responsibility of the fitness coach Pako Ayesteran and the Spaniard is adamant his workload will not be a burden now that his friend of 11 years has left Anfield. "I don't sleep much and I am always working anyway," said the manager, whose conviction should be tested by the Portuguese champions.
While several influential players have departed Porto at a return of almost £50m this summer, Pepe, Anderson and Hugo Almeida among them, Jesualdo Ferreira's team top the table after a start of four successive wins and have not lost at home to English opposition in nine games. "They sell a lot of big players but they still have Ricardo Quaresma and Lucho González," warned Benítez. "They are still a good, dangerous team."

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