11 April 2008


By Paul Walker, PA Sport

Liverpool must come back down to the earth from their Champions League quarter-final triumph to maintain their drive for fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League.
It would be easy to get carried away by the dramatic Champions League victory over Arsenal on Wednesday that has sent them into a semi-final with Chelsea for the third time in four seasons.
But boss Rafael Benitez has had been told by Liverpool's American owners in recent weeks that his priority is to ensure that the club qualify for next season's Champions League.
Co-owner Tom Hicks witnessed two of the clashes with Arsenal in the last week, while estranged partner George Gillett was there at Anfield in midweek for the third showdown.
Both men have held talks with Benitez and club officials with Gillett saying only that he "had congratulated the manager and the team" following the win over Arsenal.
But sources close to the takeover battle are keen to stress that the owners want the certainty of fourth spot over everything.
The interest on the controversial mid-season refinancing package can be paid from the money acquired from European football. Anything less could plunge the club into cash problems.
So for Sunday's home visit of Blackburn, Benitez can be expected to field a strong side to ensure he has the best chance of three points to hold off Everton's challenge for fourth.
The need to be certain of Champions League qualification is not lost on the players, with goal hero Fernando Torres underlining the importance of securing fourth place.
He said after his scoring part in the demolition of Arsenal's dreams: "We have two targets, to finish in the top four and to win the Champions League.
"We are getting to the final a step at a time, but we also must keep going in the league, too, to make sure we qualify for next season."
Benitez can afford to risk his stars against Rovers because he has a clear week afterwards ahead of the trip to Fulham on April 19, before the first semi-final with Chelsea at Anfield three days later on April 22.
If Everton win at Birmingham, Liverpool will go into the Blackburn game ahead of their local rivals only on goal difference.
The closeness of the battle ensures that Benitez will be careful not to take too many chances, because he does not want league position to distract the players ahead of the two games with Chelsea.
Unless the appeal over Javier Mascherano's ban is successful in reducing the punishment by one match, the Argentinian will complete his ban against Rovers.

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