Benitez turns attention to Chelsea

LIVERPOOL - Surveying the remains of a season littered with failed domestic and European challenges, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has a clear image of what lies ahead of him.

"The future is (Sunday's league match against) Chelsea," Benitez told reporters on Thursday after being asked if he was confident he would still be at the Anfield club next season.

When asked what came after that: "Er, Hull," he added after watching his side fall to an away goals defeat against Atletico Madrid in their Europa League semi-final.

Liverpool's season had promised so much after they finished runners-up to Manchester United last year but despite winning 2-1 on Thursday, the 2-2 aggregate defeat extinguished the side's final chance of winning any silverware this campaign.

Benitez's pre-match programme notes implored the Anfield faithful to sing their side into the Europa League final and as a plane circled the stadium bearing the message, 'Come on Liverpool', an increased sense of importance saddled the game.

But the Spanish manager, who has been linked in the media with Italian outfit Juventus, remained philosophical after his side's latest disappointment.

"At least there you could see the players worked so hard. You have to be proud of them," he said. "We have to try and do our best for next season and be ready because we have had too many problems this year."

CRIPPLED AMBITIONS

Victory and another against Fulham in the May 12 final in Hamburg could have added some much-needed gloss to a dismal season, which has also seen top striker Fernando Torres struggle with injuries and talisman Steven Gerrard out of form.

Instead, Liverpool fans are left clinging to Benitez's 'guarantee' earlier this season, following hastily rearranged priorities, that the club will finish fourth in the league and secure the final Champions League qualifying spot.

Seventh-placed Liverpool have just two fixtures remaining and trail fourth-placed Tottenham by two points with the London side having played one match fewer.

"We are realistic and we know that it is not easy but we will try and we will see," Benitez said on his side's chances of usurping Spurs.

A desperate lack of fire power has crippled their ambitions this season and Benitez is confident that the club, currently up for sale, can attract the right pedigree of player to improve the squad despite a possible absence of European football next season.

"We will be in the same situation. Liverpool is a massive club, we will try to do our best. I think the name of the club is enough," Benitez said.

"In the past, players have said we need maybe three, four or five new players. I agree with them."

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