Belfast Telegraph

Rafael Benitez sits among Liverpool greats

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez is intent on writing his own chapter in Liverpool’s history as he eclipses the great Bill Shankly in tonight’s Champions League clash with Marseille.

Benitez will send a Liverpool side into European combat for the 66th time, one more than Shankly achieved, and is now Liverpool’s leading manager - in matches played - in Europe.

And while Benitez admits to being "immensely proud" of his achievement at Anfield, his skipper Steven Gerrard will come surging back into action intent on writing some more history of his own.

Gerrard’s recovery from a torn groin muscle has been sufficient to allow him to start the match tonight, but he may not be risked for the full 90 minutes.

And Gerrard has admitted that he is still driven by a desire to match the 2005 Champions League triumph in Istanbul.

He said: "I’ve got a drive and a hunger to match Istanbul, if not beat it.

"Obviously Istanbul was mine and the club’s finest hour for a long time. But I do not just want to milk that final. I think I would have regrets if I did not win anything else."

Benitez feels the same, in the knowledge that a win over Marseille will secure qualification from Group D into the last 16, and if PSV Eindhoven fail to beat Atletico Madrid tomorrow, Liverpool will qualify anyway.

But it is the association with an achievement of the Shankly era that will inspire Benitez now.

The pair are four games ahead of three-time European Cup winner Bob Paisley on 61, with Gerard Houllier fourth on the list with 52.

Benitez has won 38, drawn 14 and lost 13 of his European games since taking charge in July 2004. His win ratio is 58.5 per cent - bettered only by Paisley (63.9 per cent) and Joe Fagan (73.7 per cent).

Benitez said: "I am really proud to be in such a position so hopefully for the next 66 games I will be here as well.

"This amount of European games is a good achievement for anyone, but especially when you are talking about a top side like Liverpool.

"That also means the team is doing well in Europe and that is very positive for the club.

"I am proud, but the game is more important. I do know the history and understand it.

"I can recall when I was at Real Madrid (in the reserves) that Liverpool beat them 1-0 in the European Cup final. My friend was the goalkeeper and there were lot of former club-mates in that side, so from that long ago I have been affected by Liverpool results."

He added: "So now to be here and to enjoy this club and the job I do is wonderful. But I must not let any personal thoughts distract me from this game.

"The Champions League is massive and we must progress. Hopefully we can make sure of our qualification in this match and then be able to concentrate on the Premier League. There is always great expectation. In my first year here everyone talked of the need to win something or to do well.

"But after winning the Champions League the expectation became too high. Everyone wanted the Premier League, which was hard after so many years without success in that competition.

"It has taken time to build and we are still trying to do it. Now that expectation has increased, people are now saying we have to win it. But the competition is so strong it is a very hard thing to achieve."

The Spaniard added: "Now we are at the top of the table in a fantastic position in two competitions. And if we can beat Marseille we will qualify with a game to go.

"Things are much better than last season, much better than two or three seasons ago. So we must continue to progress, to continue to work the way we are to get closer to our objectives.”

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