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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 13 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Apr 25, 2008

Buoyant Benitez to rotate again at Birmingham

After thrashing out the club's summer spending plans with co-owner Tom Hicks, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will shuffle the current pack at his disposal for tomorrow's trip to struggling Birmingham.

Just four days before the Champions League semi-final second leg at Chelsea, the Reds boss will ignore the howls of complaint from other clubs in the Barclays Premier League relegation zone and again rest his big hitters.

Last weekend he sent a side with eight changes in it to Fulham, where they won 2-0. Bolton boss Gary Megson had called on Benitez to field a strong side as his own team battle against relegation.

And it also revived the row with former Sheffield United boss Neil Warnock over an identical decision from the Spaniard last season at Fulham, but that time the Cottagers won 1-0 and stayed in the top flight at the Blades' expense.

Warnock could not help having another rant last weekend, and Benitez has put those comments in the hands of his lawyers.

At St Andrews tomorrow it may be even worse. Benitez is likely to call in youngsters Damien Plessis and Emiliano Insua, plus even second-choice goalkeeper Charles Itandje along with the back-up players who performed at Fulham.

Benitez has made his view very clear, saying: 'I know there has been criticism of what we did at Fulham. But teams have 38 games to play each season, that is enough. So you are responsible for your own luck.

'I will use the players I believe will be good enough to win this game. I believe 38 games is enough to be successful or not.'

Liverpool need one point to ensure fourth place, so Benitez knows there is more time to achieve that solitary objective.

And this time around he may well not even want to risk Peter Crouch, Javier Mascherano, Yossi Benayoun or John Arne Riise - who all played at Fulham last week - ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge.

Birmingham boss Alex McLeish was in the Liverpool director's box watching Tuesday's European tie with Chelsea, and he left with a broad smile on his face.

No doubt more than aware that Benitez would have to think long and hard about the strength of his side at St Andrews with the semi-final tie balanced on a knife edge.

He will be without Fabio Aurelio, who damaged an abductor muscle against Chelsea.

It was the longer term, and in particular Benitez's summer targets, that dominated the agenda when the Spaniard held 'a very positive meeting' with Hicks at the club's Melwood training ground on Wednesday.

Benitez has drawn up a wish list, which reportedly includes Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry and Blackburn's David Bentley, and Hicks' fellow owner George Gillett and chief executive Rick Parry have also been briefed as the Reds look to strengthen after a disappointing league campaign.

'Everything is positive. We have talked about targets to sign, that is my aim,' Benitez said.

'I do not doubt we will achieve those targets. I have a scouting department that is working and progressing. Now I have told the owners how we need to progress.

'Rick Parry will be working too, and if everyone works hard and we work together, it will be easier.

'Clearly I expect agreement on recruiting players for the summer. We are ready now for going forward.

'Now we have had a meeting, we are in a better position. We need to think about Birmingham and Chelsea, but we must also think about improving the squad.

'George knows about what was said, everybody knows. Everyone has the same information.'