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Benitez confident of upsetting Chelsea

in English Premier League 27 Apr 2008


Rafael Benitez believes Liverpool's chances of defeating Chelsea and making it to the Champions League final have been increased now that the pressure is off over qualifying for next season's competition.

A Peter Crouch strike and an own goal from Birmingham defender Rahdi Jaidi capped a second-half fight back by Liverpool at St Andrews on Saturday to gain the solitary point they required to effectively confirm a fourth place finish ahead of Merseyside rivals Everton this season.

Spanish striker Fernando Torres and England internationals Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher headed a list of no fewer than nine players who were wrapped in cotton wool ahead of Wednesday's show-down with Premier League rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

And Benitez is convinced the relief of no longer having to collect league points to stave off the pressure from Everton will give his rested players an extra edge for the return leg of the Champions League semi-final as Liverpool pursue a sixth European title.

“Fourth place is always a minimum requirement. You must qualify for the Champions League. We will be there now and we have to be satisfied with that,” said Benitez.

“Obviously I would have liked to finish higher in the league and I would like to finish as high as possible in the future, but at the end you must be happy with fourth place, especially if you go on to win the Champions League.

“The idea was to win the game at Birmingham, but the draw was always an option and now we can think about our next game and concentrate hard. We can focus everything on progress in the Champions League and focus hard on making the final.”

Jermaine Pennant played a vital part in Liverpools revival from a two-goal deficit and he and Crouch could well have played themselves into Benitez's thinking for his side for Liverpool's most crucial game of the season in midweek.

“We had some players that did very well and that is good for me as I consider Wednesday. That was the other positive thing to come out of the game, to know that we have options for the game with Chelsea,” added Benitez.

Birmingham's failure to retain a winning position for the fifth time at home this season leaves them stuck in the bottom three and they could be relegated at fellow strugglers Fulham on Saturday, if results go against them.

Sebastian Larsson, the Swedish international, doubled the advantage given to Birmingham by Finnish international Mikael Forssell's tenth goal of the season, but Alex McLeish's side were unable to see out the game, less than a week after their 5-1 humiliation against local rivals Aston Villa.

Birmingham have taken just two points from their last ten away games and go to Fulham knowing that they have to improve that record to ensure that the final home game of the season against Blackburn Rovers still has some significance.

“We can go to Fulham and win,” McLeish insisted. “I am not saying we will, but we have to win an away game sooner rather than later. Before the game against Liverpool we would have taken a draw, but we are very disappointed to draw and the lads are very disappointed.

“We have got to get our heads up. It is still a good result after what happened at Aston Villa. We won't change our preparation. There is no magic wand and we know what we have to do.”




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