Italian job beckons for Liverpool

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PARIS, September 28 – Five-times European champions Liverpool bid to take command of Champions League Group E with a win in Fiorentina on Tuesday despite having laboured to a 1-0 over Debrecen of Hungary at Anfield in their opening match.FERNANDO_TORRES_Rafael Benitez’s side travel to Florence on a high thanks to Saturday’s 6-1 crushing of Hull.

With a tough Premier League match coming up against Chelsea next weekend, the Reds are determined to keep their current momentum going, says Fernando Torres, hat-trick hero against Hull.

"As a team we are now in a good moment," the Spaniard, who helped to see off Inter Milan two seasons ago in his club’s last visit to Italy, told liverpoolfc.tv.

"We are still not at our best – but we will be soon," he promised fans who, while they would be delighted if Benitez could deliver another continental title after the 2005 miracle of Istanbul saw them come back from the dead against AC Milan, are also demanding a first league title since 1990.

While Torres fires up Liverpool, Fiorentina, currently fourth in Serie A two points behind pace-setters Sampdoria, have an even more combustible talent driving them forward in the shape of Romanian maverick Adrian Mutu.

Mutu’s Premier League stint ended in well-documented ignomony when, playing for Chelsea, he tested positive in 2004 for cocaine use and was promptly sacked.

After hauling himself back into the limelight at Juventus, following a seven-month ban, Mutu, now 30, moved on to Fiorentina.

Mutu has dovetailed well with Alberto Gilardino – but the latter is suspended for Tuesday’s encounter, heaping added responsibility on Mutu’s shoulders as the Italians look to bounce back from a first round loss at French side Lyon.

Fiorentina last played in the competition in 2000 while their last meeting with English opposition saw them defeat Liverpool’s city rivals Everton on penalties in the UEFA Cup two seasons ago.

La Viola coach Cesare Prandelli will trust that his substitute apearance for Juventus in their 1985 final win over Liverpool will constitute a positive omen.

Arsenal, like Liverpool, will similarly chase down a second win in Group H after Arsene Wenger’s men clawed their way out of jail from being 2-0 down in their opener at Standard Liege.

Now the Gunners meet fellow first-day winners Olympiakos of Greece, coached this term by Brazilian legend Zico and for whom former Blackburn striker Matt Derbyshire will be hoping to shine after an injury-plagued start to the season.

Derbyshire scored twice in last season’s Greek Cup final cliffhanger win over AEK Athens but has been carrying an injury across the summer.

Arsenal, beaten in the semis by Manchester United last time out, can come of age this season as their young players mature, says Dutch flyer Robin van Persie, who forsees the end of a four-year barren trophy spell.

The Gunners should easily get out of a group also containing his compatriots Alkmaar, who now host Liege, yet in previous years Arsenal’s youthful side has been found out in the latter stages.

However, Van Persie says there are no ego clashes at the club and told Arsenal magazine that "we cannot hide behind saying we are inexperienced anymore. It is now about how much we really want it."

Holders Barcelona, having negotiated a draw at Inter Milan, should energe confidently from Group F and will go top assuming they see off Dynamo Kyiv at the Nou Camp although Thierry Henry is a doubt with a groin strain.

Inter travel into the unknown to face Russian champions Kazan, who lost their first ever Champions League game in Ukraine.

In Group G, Rangers can follow up on their enterprising draw in Stuttgart by seeing off tricky Spaniards Sevilla in Glasgow on an evening where the Germans, managed by former Liverpool man Markus Babbel, will have to negotiate a potentially hazardous trip to Romania’s Unirea Urziceni.

Despite holding Stuttgart, Rangers have suffered a domestic dip in form with Saturday’s stalemate against Aberdeen their third straight goalless league outcome.

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