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Defiant Rafa Benitez leaps to Liverpool's defence

Rafael Benitez has defended Liverpool against accusations that they lack the necessary quality and depth to challenge for major trophies this season and the Spaniard is confident his side will recover from a poor run of form, starting with Tuesday's Champions League tie against Lyon.

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While the headlines have been dominated by beach ball-related quips ever since a freak goal condemned Liverpool to a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland at the weekend, Benitez has not been able to mask the fact that his side have now lost three games in succession in all competitions.

If that run was to continue when Lyon visit Anfield on Tuesday night then as well as struggling in the league, Liverpool would be in an uncomfortable position in Europe having already lost away to Fiorentina.

Although Steven Gerrard will return from injury, Fernando Torres is still absent with an adductor problem and, with Xabi Alonso long since departed to Real Madrid, real questions have been asked of the players at Liverpool's disposal, particularly in the wake of a Sunderland defeat which saw Benitez hand a debut to young midfielder Jay Spearing.

But Benitez is adamant that he has the necessary quality to resurrect Liverpool's hopes of winning a trophy this season and has adopted an optimistic outlook ahead of Tuesday's game against Lyon and an important Premier League clash with Manchester United on Sunday.

"We have been criticised, but I am happy with the squad," Benitez said. "The vast majority of them were here last season when we won 86 points, very little has changed.

"People say we cannot play without Gerrard and Torres. I was not worried at the weekend even though we lost at Sunderland when we were without both of them, so now with one back it is even less of a problem.

"The trouble is not that we lack depth and quality. We must manage with the situation we have, which is made more difficult with several players out injured. We worked hard in the summer to keep the players we wanted, and to add to that. But the troubles have arisen because of the amount of injuries to key players.

"I have some experience in difficult situations, all managers do, but at this time we have lost four league games and people are talking about the quality, the depth of the squad. But again, like last year, the main thing is to be calm, work hard and find solutions to the problem. That is the only way in football. If you lose and don't play, you think about it for a week, ten days, but this week we have an opportunity to change everything. It can change everything for the positive.

"Last year we were talking about draws and then we got 86 points. My obligation is to be positive because I think we have more quality than we are showing now. As soon as we play well twice, hopefully this week, people will start saying maybe I am right. If we win on Sunday, we will be four points behind [United, who are top of the table] and that is not bad."

Meanwhile, Liverpool are considering giving £20 million summer signing Alberto Aquilani a reserve team run-out on Wednesday. The Italy international is yet to figure for the Reds so far this season as he has battled back from a summer knee operation that preceded his move from Roma to Anfield.

But the attacking midfielder has been back in full training for more than a week now, and is tentatively being considered for a short spell of action during Wednesday's home reserve match with Sunderland.


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