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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jan 12, 2007

Benitez focused on finishing in the top four

Rafael Benitez has come out fighting after the worst week of his Liverpool career by insisting domestic cups are not his priority.

The Liverpool chief will have all his big guns back tomorrow for the Barclays Premiership game at bottom club Watford, and makes it clear his team selection against Arsenal in the Carling Cup was deliberate to underline his true priorities.

Benitez said: 'You always need to know what is more important for your club. If you want to sign top players you need the money from Europe and the Premier League, not from the Carling Cup.

'You only get this money by finishing in the top four, we can only be focused on the really important competitions.

'I must take the responsibility and make the decisions. How many players can we risk being injured like Momo Sissoko and Luis Garcia have been?

'I have to decide. My priority is not to win the Carling Cup, I will not put the Premier League and Champions League second to that competition.'

Defeat to Arsenal twice in four days in the FA Cup and Carling Cup has even seen bookies slash the odds on Benitez leaving from 50-1 to 16-1, but Liverpool dismiss any such suggestion as nonsense.

Benitez is defiant over the criticism and maintains his achievements in 31 months at Anfield stand up to close scrutiny.

He added: 'It has been a bad week, with everything changing as far as the cups are concerned, but we are positive.

'It is clear we are third in the Premier League and in the last 16 of the Champions League. It is a good situation and I accept it could be better had we won one or two of the last games, but are really focused on the Premiership and Champions League.

'I feel some of the criticism has been over the top, but you expect critics to say these things.

'I want to clarify that I have no problems with the board, they want the best for the club and so do I. We are trying to improve and how to do it, we are talking every week and I believe going in the right direction.

'The board, chairman, chief executive Rick Parry and me all feel the same way. That's why we are talking to new investors, that is why they brought me here. Liverpool have gone 17 years without the title, so tell me what is my priority?'

Benitez will be without Luis Garcia (knee ligaments) now for the rest of the season after sustaining his injury on Tuesday.

He said: 'It is important to have a good memory. This club has not won the league for 17 years, we need to improve. The last manager couldn't do it and we are all trying to improve and move in the right direction.

'But I cannot see many clubs who have won four trophies in two seasons, including the Champions League. As a manager you must have the big picture and know what is the most important thing.

'And that's the Premier League and Champions League. If you finish in the top four and progress in the Champions League you will have more money to sign top-class players.

'We will play Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona in one month and these are the more important games. We need all our players available for these games.'

He added: 'The cups are also important, but with the squad we have maybe we cannot compete for all four competitions. I must have priorities.

'The Premier League is the future of the club. Two seasons ago we lost at Burnley in the FA Cup and everyone was saying how bad the team was, then we won the Champions League four months later.

'That meant we had the money to sign Sissoko, (Bolo) Zenden, (Peter) Crouch. That was the most important thing for the future of the club.

'As a manager I have the responsibility to look at the bigger picture. All I know is that we have a better chance of that with all our senior players fit.

'Sometimes people forget we are third in the Premier League, ahead of Arsenal. We have a clear idea what is more important for the future of the club, and it is not the Carling Cup. It is the Premier League and the Champions League.'

Liverpool have confirmed the signing of Italy Under-21 goalkeeper Daniele Padelli on loan from Sampdoria until the end of the season.

The Reds will have the option to make the move permanent if Padelli impresses at Anfield.

Benitez told the club's official website: 'He's a good young goalkeeper who has been selected for his national side.'