DOMINIC KING: Going fourth on home front is key priority for Liverpool FC
THE talk was bold and determined, the attitude was upbeat and the message was clear - that the Europa League offered Liverpool a chance to salvage their season. But, as the dust settles on their Champions League elimination, there are genuine reasons for believing Liverpool's impending assault on a competition that has been off the radar at Anfield for six years will present Rafa Benitez with another unwanted headache. While on the surface the thought of a grand trip to Hamburg next May sounds appealing and evokes memories of an unforgettable night out in Dortmund nine years ago, the reality is much more complicated. If the Reds are going to go all the way to the final, they would only have to play two extra games compared to what would have been asked of them had they reached the Champions League final in Madrid, which was the ultimate aim. When you consider Liverpool do not have any Carling Cup commitments, a further 180 minutes of football is not what you would consider to be an excessive demand and, once the treatment room clears, Benitez has a squad to cope. The problem comes about, though, with the way Europa League fixtures are planned - playing Thursday then Sunday is a punishing schedule, both mentally and physically, and may eventually prove to be draining. Given that his side has not lifted a piece of silverware since May 2006, Benitez is desperate to give Liverpool's supporters a trophy to celebrate and, more often than not, he comes alive when continental opponents come into view. With that in mind, then, it is no surprise Liverpool have been installed by many bookmakers as favourites to hoist that distinctive trophy aloft for a record-breaking fourth time. But before you go wading in to back them, pause for a moment. Benitez, you see, wants this to be the only time he manages Liverpool in the Europa League and, while the majority of the squad spoke of their ambitions to win it, they won't want to be anywhere near it next September. They have become accustomed to playing in footballing cathedrals in Madrid and Milan, Barcelona and Lisbon, and taken inspiration from that now famous theme tune; it's the kind of stage that befits the talents of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres et al.
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