A top four finish is our priority, says Benitez

RAFAEL BENITEZ will put all thoughts of the Europa League on hold in a bid to reignite Liverpool’s stuttering Premier League form.

The Merseysiders completed a miserable Champions League campaign with a 2-1 defeat at home to Fiorentina on Wednesday night – another late goal, this time from Alberto Gilardino, condemning them to a third defeat in six Group E contests.

A third-placed finish means the club will compete in the Europa League in the new year but Benitez’s main priority is to ensure the club return to Champions League action next season via a top-four finish in England’s top flight.

He said: “We will take it (the Europa League) seriously, but for us the main thing is to progress in the Premier League. To be in the top four.

“We do not play in the Europa League until February, so we will have plenty of time to concentrate on the Premier League. Another European competition is later.

“What has happened to us in the Champions League, the misfortunes, will be an experience the players will remember and it will give them strength and more determination to improve over the rest of the season.”

Liverpool currently lie seventh, three points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, and have the chance to close the gap on another European rival when they host Arsenal on Sunday.

Benitez added: “I hope that a new beginning, a new season, starts for us from this point. Now we must concentrate on Arsenal and try to do well on Sunday.

“This has been a very disappointing Champions League campaign. Two late goals in matches against Lyon changed everything, and now it has happened again against Fiorentina.

“We knew we could not progress before the game, but to lose another late goal was very disappointing for the team, for everyone.

“I would expect a different approach on Sunday against Arsenal. It is always difficult approaching a game like Fiorentina knowing that whatever you do you cannot change the situation, we were already out.”

The Spaniard attempted to take the positives from another setback against Fiorentina with the performance of Alberto Aquilani on his long-awaited full debut giving him the greatest satisfaction.

“Even though we lost, there were some good things to take into our next match. Alberto Aquilani and Fernando Torres (on his return from injury) both looked good, while Steven Gerrard is getting closer to full fitness,” he said.

“Gerrard is getting more games under his belt, Torres looked very positive and Aquilani played well and showed quality with his passes.

“It was also good to see young Danny Pacheco getting some time on the pitch in the first team, he is a young player of real potential.

“Both Torres and Aquilani are fit and will train hard for the rest of the week and they will be ready for the Arsenal match.”

Having come through his first Liverpool start. Aquilani has asked for patience from the Liverpool fans.

The former Roma star admitted it will take time for him to build up his full fitness and make an impact following his ankle injury.

“For a football player it is very hard if you haven’t played for seven or eight months,’’ Aquilani said.

“If you don’t play the fitness is not good and the training is good, but the matches are different and I need to play and if you play more and more I get the fitness.’’


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