Europa League - Liverpool's ambitions shrink to fourth place

Reuters - Thu, 01 Apr 15:08:00 2010

A room set aside at the trophy-packed Liverpool Football Club museum at Anfield is devoted to endless replays of an astonishing night of European football.

FOOTBALL - 2009/2010 - Debrecen-Liverpool - Gerrard - 0

Seemingly down and out after trailing 3-0 at half-time to Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, Liverpool came back to tie the match and win the penalty shootout.

Although the memories are enshrined forever in the red section of Merseyside, manager Rafa Benitez's ambitions five years on have shrunk to securing fourth place in the Premier League and a spot in the Champions League.

"We know that we have to keep going," the Spaniard said after Liverpool romped to a 3-0 win over Sunderland last Sunday, courtesy of two goals from his compatriot Fernando Torres.

"It will be difficult. If Torres can stay fit he will be very important. If a striker is scoring goals he is a very important player and in trying to keep him happy the first thing we can do is win the games this year and try to be in the top four".

The spring-heeled Spaniard has scored four goals in his last seven games, to bring his season's tally to 20, but Liverpool still remain four points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and the north London side have a game in hand.

In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Torres threatened to leave Liverpool if the club did not invest in some quality players and, even though Liverpool are still involved in European competition this season through the Europa League, fifth place might persuade him it is time to leave.

Torres, 26, would then be the target of richer and more successful English clubs and the Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona. Reports from Italy say Milan are also interested.

Both through word and deed, Torres appears at the moment committed to the Liverpool cause.

"When you get injuries it is frustrating because every player wants to be able to play in every game," he said.

"Playing in less than 30 games is not too many for a footballer, especially a Liverpool player, but I am playing now and scoring goals and I just want to help the team.

"The main thing is that I am close to my best now. I feel strong, I have stamina. If I can keep scoring goals until the end of the season we can do good things for Liverpool.

"We have got 18 points to play for and all we can do is try to get them and wait to see what the results of the other teams ahead of us are".

Then there is captain Steven Gerrard, an England mainstay but a player who has scored only six league goals for his club this season.

Benitez, who has been criticised for playing Gerrard in a variety of positions, mounted a robust defence after the Sunderland match.

"Gerrard can play everywhere," Benitez said. "It depends on the team. I told him before the Sunderland game he was playing in the middle and he was happy. He can help the team and that is the main thing".

Gerrard, who turns 30 next month, concedes he has not been at his best this season. However, the man who at his peak epitomises the best qualities of a combative English footballer, thinks the spur of a place in Europe and the World Cup in South Africa can turn his year around.

"It's a big time for me, I am aware of my age and what I want out of the remainder of my career," he said.

"I look after myself, and I'm in good shape physically so I believe I've still got five years to fight for all the big prizes in football. I'll do everything I can to keep going.

"You have to accept that as a team we have underachieved and I have to accept that there have been times when my form hasn't been good. We deal with that and move forward.

"There's a chance to finish the season on a high with Liverpool now, by finishing fourth and going to (the Europa League) final. It would be fantastic if we could achieve both of those things. Then you focus on the World Cup. Things change quickly in football".

Reuters

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