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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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By ESPN Staff

Benitez shrugs off friendly form ahead of Euro tie

Rafael Benitez has dismissed Liverpool's poor pre-season form and insists that they will be ready for their crunch Champions League encounter on Wednesday night.

Liverpool have lost three friendlies in a week and conceded 10 goals ahead of the first leg of their third qualifying round tie at Anfield against Maccabi Haifa.

That sort of build-up to a crucial match that could determine the path their season will take - a win ensuring £10million from qualification for the group stages - has concerned their fans.

But Benitez said: 'I do not put too much importance on the friendly defeats. It has been more difficult this summer, we have been working on different formations and doing a lot of training at the same time, and on the same day as matches.

'It has also been very hard for the top sides with players in the World Cup. They have all come back later for training late and at different times, it has been very disruptive.

'We started our pre-season well with a couple of wins, but afterwards we lost three games and it was all down to mistakes. We conceded stupid goals, easy goals and it was because we were not ready physically.

'We were training hard, changing players and systems. It is not normal for us to concede this amount of goals so it is now important for us to recapture the way we played last season.

'We know it is not normal. We conceded five in a second half and three in six minutes, that is not what you expect.

'But we are fit and ready now, and in a good condition for the Champions League. We all understand how important this game is.'

Liverpool will be without Robbie Fowler (knee) and Fabio Aurelio (calf) while Danny Agger (ankle) and Mark Gonzalez (calf) are doubts.

And Benitez warns: 'Haifa are a dangerous team, we will be confident, but we must be aware of their strengths. This is one of the hardest matches we could get at this stage.

'The players are concentrating. They want to get through this and play another Champions League campaign, and I know as manager how important this is for the club.

'We are better equipped than last season, despite the pre-season results.

'We have had injuries, and players not back with us. We were trying different systems and that is why the results have not looked good. But we have more quality and I believe the squad is good.'