Much ex­pected from tal­is­manic Tor­res, Ger­rard

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL - By NEIL JOHN­SON

LIVER­POOL have cashed in on mid­fielder Xabi Alonso and their lack of fi­nan­cial mus­cle means they have been un­able to com­pete for stel­lar sign­ings such as Va­len­cia striker David Villa.

How­ever, man­ager Rafa Ben­itez re­mains con­vinced he can end a three­sea­son tro­phy drought at An­field and de­liver the prize the fans crave the most.

Next May will rep­re­sent the 20th an­niver­sary since the Mersey­side club last won the league ti­tle, far too long for a team of Liver­pool’s tra­di­tions.

They lost only two league games last sea­son yet were still forced to set­tle for run­ners-up spot.

“We are strong enough to beat any­one but we need to be con­sis­tent,” said Ben­itez as he pre­pared for his sixth sea­son in charge at An­field.

“We got 86 points last sea­son, a record for the club in the Premier League, but we still need to im­prove. We have a lot of con­fi­dence.”

Con­sis­tency will be the key for Liver­pool. De­spite los­ing two fewer games than cham­pi­ons Manch­ester United, it was too many home draws that did for them last sea­son and Ben­itez knows they can­not af­ford a re­peat.

Liver­pool’s trans­fer bud­get is dwarfed by United, new big spenders Manch­ester City and Chelsea, but Ben­itez ap­pears to have made two shrewd in­vest­ments, full back Glen John­son from Portsmouth and mid­fielder Al­berto Aquilani from AS Roma.

Aquilani, once he has re­cov­ered from a dam­aged an­kle, does though face a tough chal­lenge to fill the void left by the £30-mil­lion sale of Alonso to Real Madrid.

Liver­pool’s ti­tle hopes may also rest on Ben­itez con­cen­trat­ing on his side in­stead of al­low­ing him­self to be­come dis­tracted by United.

The An­field club’s 2008-09 sea­son seemed to suf­fer af­ter Ben­itez launched an out­spo­ken at­tack on Sir Alex Fer­gu­son in Jan­uary, say­ing United’s man­ager was above pu­n­ish­ment by soc­cer’s gov­ern­ing bodies.

That sparked a bit­ter war of words be­tween the pair and it was Fer­gu­son who en­joyed the last laugh by clinch­ing the ti­tle for the third suc­ces­sive sea­son.

The fit­ness of Eng­land mid­fielder Steven Ger­rard and Spain striker Fer- nando Tor­res is also key to Liver­pool’s am­bi­tions.

In­juries meant the pair started only 14 Premier League matches to­gether last sea­son.

If Ger­rard and Tor­res stay fit, Liver­pool’s long wait for the ti­tle could soon be over.

CAP­TAIN FAN­TAS­TIC: Steven Ger­rard is now more vi­tal to his team than ever

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