Wednesday 21 February 2018

Liverpool rediscover appetite for European fare

Rafa Benitez. Photo: Getty Images
Rafa Benitez. Photo: Getty Images

Rafael Benitez feels Liverpool's players and fans have now discovered a real appetite for success in the Europa League.

Dropping into the second-tier continental competition after elimination from the Champions League earlier this season was almost regarded as a booby prize in some quarters.

But now after powering into the semi-finals following a stunning victory over Portuguese giants Benfica last night, Benitez senses a real hunger to claim the silverware.

The Spaniard said: "The Europa League, maybe at the beginning, the teams are not the best but when you get to the quarter and semi-finals the teams are quite good.

"It is a very good competition, especially if you can win it.

"For a lot of teams that play Champions League, they say it is not the best or not the same and we agree, especially in the beginning.

"But there are also a lot of teams that are really pleased to be here.

"We are now. It means our players have experience in Europe and we can play at the maximum level.

"I also thought the fans were behind the team and they enjoyed a lot.

"It was a great European night and hopefully the next one will be the same."

Liverpool will now play star striker Fernando Torres' former club Atletico Madrid in the last four later this month.

Atletico won through by seeing off Valencia, who were previously managed by Benitez, so victory was always going to produce an interesting tie.

"It would have been very difficult to go to Valencia or Atletico Madrid," Benitez said.

"Now we will have to go to Madrid so maybe it will be more exciting for Torres than me because he was there for a long time.

"But we know the Spanish teams are very good and it will be very difficult.

"We know a little bit about Atletico Madrid and if we have any doubt we will talk with Fernando.

"They are a good team doing very well. Quique Flores, their new manager, is improving the team.

"They had problems at the beginning but are now doing very well and have two strikers that are dangerous. It will be tough."

Torres scored twice as the Reds overturned a 2-1 deficit from the first leg against Benfica with a superb attacking performance.

Dirk Kuyt and Lucas were also on target as Benitez's side swept through 4-1 and 5-3 on aggregate.

Torres' performance came four days after he was controversially substituted in a frustrating 1-1 draw at Birmingham.

That result left Liverpool's hopes of finishing fourth in the Barclays Premier League looking increasingly slim but Benitez continued to defend the decision to remove his top scorer.

Torres, who has now scored two in four successive home games, has been troubled by a knee injury and Benitez did not want to take risks.

There was little negative reaction when Torres was again removed after 86 minutes last minutes and Benitez needs him fit for Sunday's trip to Fulham.

Benitez said: "He had problems at the beginning with his knee and it is a question of resting players if you can manage to.

"The most important game now is against Fulham and we wanted to protect Fernando.

"In the league, consistency is important so we will try to win against Fulham and be ready for the next games.

"But the Premier League is different and you never know, but we will have more confidence after this game.

"Hopefully we will play well and score more goals."

Sunday's encounter could prove a dress rehearsal for the Europa League final with the Cottagers also through to the last four and facing Hamburg.

Benitez added: "Hopefully we can see Fulham in the final and there will be two English teams there.

"That will be very good for England. Fulham are doing very well."

Press Association

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