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Drogba turning back the clock

Chelsea 18 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
May 25, 2009

Benitez's hopes rest on Torres and Gerrard

Rafael Benitez is already praying Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres will have an injury-free season next time around.

The Liverpool manager knows any improvement on this term's runners-up spot in the Premier League will depend on Gerrard and Torres staying fit.

Benitez believes the pair are a frightening prospect for any opposition when they are in the side together.

But the Reds' goal-scoring double act only started 21 games together all season because of injury troubles and that cost them the title, according to the manager.

Torres will be playing in the Confederation Cup this summer in South Africa, while Gerrard has England's World Cup campaign to consider, something which has further frustrated Benitez.

The Spaniard said: ''Fernando will be away with Spain, Steven also has international duty. It is not something we can stop so there's no point complaining.

''Top players are needed by their countries. But you don't have to ask me what I would prefer.

''Let's hope the two of them can then have a relaxing summer and be fully fit when we start again in August, and stay that way through the season.''

Gerrard finished the campaign with 16 league goals, the third highest scorer in the top flight after Cristiano Ronaldo and Nicholas Anelka, and hit 24 in all competitions. Both tallies are career bests for the club captain.

Torres took his season's tally to 17 with the opening goal in Sunday's 3-1 win over Spurs, his 50th for the club and a total per games played that is quicker than Kenny Dalglish or Ian Rush achieved for their half-centuries.

The value of Torres and Gerrard to Benitez's aims is only too obvious.

And as Benitez surveys a season which has seen Liverpool set a Premier League club record of 86 points, remain unbeaten at home in the league and finished the division's leading scorer, he underlines how difficult it is to win the title.

He said: ''We have missed Gerrard and Torres too much, they do make a big difference when they play in the side together which hasn't happened as much as we would have liked.

''Let's hope they can have a good rest this summer and be back for what I believe will be a better season.

''We have to maintain the levels of this season, the consistency and quality, to improve next time around.

''But the transfer market will be difficult. There will be many clubs trying to get the very best prices for their players and things may not happen quickly.

''We know players we want to sign but that depends on money and other clubs.

''This is now a challenge for all of us, to make that next step, to get closer to the title.

''We made some mistakes this season, the home draws. Next time we must avoid those mistakes.''

He added: ''To get 86 points is a massive achievement, it would have won the league on seven previous Premier League seasons.

''But we have to improve, we have to be almost perfect to win the title with it now being so competitive and with such top sides involved.

''We have improved a lot this season, if we keep going the same way then we will be closer to the title next season.

''You just need to look at the statistics, we have only lost two games in the league all season and been undefeated at home. In fact we have lost only five of 55 games all season.

''But the Premier League is very difficult, winning trophies in England is very difficult.

''The quality we are facing is in effect the best sides in Europe, all the top four get to the final stages of the Champions League, three to the semi-finals this season.

''There is not just one top side, Manchester United. There's Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham, they are all able to challenge along with us.''

The Liverpool manager has also re-iterated he does not want to sell Xabi Alonso, insisting that funds for transfers can instead be raised by offloading Anfield's fringe players and those out on loan.

Benitez has admitted to a ''private'' conversation with Alonso's agent, but said: ''Xabi is not for sale, we want to keep the key players here. The spine of the team.

''We will want to sell other players, maybe those who are out on loan. We do not want to sell key players.''

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