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Rafael Benitez's band are travelling second class in Europe nowadays

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18 Feb 2010 02:41:05

Rafael Benitez's band are travelling second class in Europe nowadays

They were lording it over the rest of Europe at the end of Rafa Benitez's first season in charge, but Liverpool will be given a stark reminder of their downgraded status when they step out against Unirea Urziceni at Anfield. Back in action: Fernando Torres Liverpool are no longer the subject of worldwide attention in the Champions League, and their demotion to the second rate Europa League will be watched by scaled-down audiences all round, with barely 40,000 expected at the ground and Five's viewing figures hardly likely to match those of Sky and ITV over the past two nights. Benitez did his best to paint the last-32 tie in a positive light but still could not help casting an eye towards next season's Champions League as he derided the idea of a play-off for the final qualifying spot. 'We already play too many games in too many competitions and it leads to too many injuries,' he said. 'So what are we to do? Play even more games? It doesn't make any sense and I don't know how or when you could possibly fit those games in. 'How would Aston Villa feel if they finished fourth and had to play Birmingham, who were 20 points behind them in seventh? Probably the same as we would feel if we were fourth and found we had to play Everton in seventh. It would be a mess. 'Someone has to analyse carefully what they are saying before they try to make things more exciting for television. If you finish fourth, you deserve your place in the Champions League.' Anfield will tonight be a couple of thousand below its European capacity, despite ticket prices being trimmed by £6 in an attempt to offset the negligible appeal of a Romanian team whose only recognisable name departed last month when former Chelsea defender Dan Petrescu quit as manager. Benitez conceded Liverpool's players and supporters may struggle to replicate the Anfield atmosphere that has contributed to so many great European nights. Asked whether motivation levels would be as high as against Real Madrid or Barcelona, the Liverpool manager replied: 'It is difficult to say. All I know for sure is that today's training was really good. Everyone was focused on giving their all. Up for the (second rate) Cup: Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez 'If we can play well and make a positive start, everyone will be behind us. But we may have to be patient, because Unirea are very good defensively and play on the counter, so it will not be open. It may not be a game everyone will enjoy watching. 'The ball won't be going from one box to the other. Always the relationship between the players and fans is really good. People can be critical of this competition, but it is Europe and it is a trophy, and those two things are very important to this club. I will be putting out a strong side.' Enlarge Marvelling at Wayne Rooney's match-winning flair for Manchester United against AC Milan on Tuesday reminded Benitez how sorely he has missed Fernando Torres, after injury sidelined the £21million striker for much of the group stage. He said: 'It is difficult trying to manage when numbers are reduced, but when it is someone like Torres it makes a massive difference. You think what he can do and realise the impact it has.'  Benitez dismisses plans for fourth place play-off for Champions LeagueVIDEO: Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez writes off plot to launch Premier League play-off for Champions LeagueBayern move to beat Premier League giants in race for £13m winger KrasicHiddink refuses to wait for Liverpool as he agrees to take over at TurkeyLIVERPOOL FC


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