RAFAEL BENITEZ has vowed to take Liverpool back into the Champions League as they prepare for the embarrassment of a dead rubber against Fiorentina tonight.
Liverpool are already out of this season’s competition having failed to finish in the top two in Group E, a humiliating experience for the five-time European Cup winners, who will now drop into the Europa League.
That will truly hit home at Anfield against an impressive Italian side who beat the Reds 2-0 in September at the start of a terrible run for Benitez and his side. Liverpool had won six on the trot ahead of the match in Florence, but have managed just two wins in 13 since.
Benitez will finally give £20 million (€22m) midfielder Alberto Aquilani his full debut tonight, four months after he arrived at the club, but that could well be the only thing to brighten the night for the Liverpool fans.
Benitez knows that the only way to get back into next season’s Champions League is to finish in the top four of the Barclays Premier League, on current form far from an easy task.
But he said: “I am convinced we will have Champions League football back here next season.
“We have a good team, a good squad and we can win games in a row now. We have not lost in six and kept three consecutive clean sheets, that is positive and an improvement on what was happening a few weeks ago.
“We know what it means to play in the Champions League. The players certainly understand.
“We have the right experience and I am confident we will finish in the top four, at least, so we must concentrate on our league games to achieve that.
“We have Arsenal next, then Wigan in midweek before Portsmouth away the following Saturday. We must win those games to get ourselves back into a strong position to make sure we do qualify for the tournament next season.”
Striker Fernando Torres will also return to the squad but will start on the bench after his lengthy recovery from a groin problem.
Fiorentina boss Cesare Prandelli has urged his team not to take their foot off the gas.
The Serie A side lead the pool on 12 points and have already secured their place in the knockout phase.
Fiorentina have even taken the opportunity of turning the trip into a mini-holiday for the club, with players and staff having brought their wives and families to England for the occasion.
But Prandelli said: “We are top and we have qualified. But that is not enough. We still have the appetite for more success, we want to clinch top spot to give us a better chance in the draw for the last 16. I am pleased we have got this far, but I want to write some more pages in our history.”
Prandelli arrived on Merseyside with plenty of problems, with key players Stevan Jovetic and Juan Vargas unable to train and Massimo Gobbi sidelined having picked up a muscle injury in training.
Jovetic is the greatest concern. He returned to the side at the weekend for the win over Atalanta after a toe injury, and limped out of the match after 50 minutes with an ankle problem.
Fiorentina are without Adrian Mutu (knee) while Alessandro Gamberini and Marco Marchionni both have thigh problems. Dario Dainelli is out through suspension.
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