Benitez stays optimistic

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LIVERPOOL, April 18 – Rafael Benitez has changed his mind over Liverpool's bid for a Champions League place by claiming they can still finish in the top four if they beat West Ham United on Monday.
It has been a week of upheaval at Anfield after it was confirmed that co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks are willing to sell the club after three years in charge, with British Airways chairman Martin Broughton drafted in to help oversee any potential deal.

Despite the off-field issues at the club, Benitez is more interested in what happens on the pitch and insists that Liverpool can overtake Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, who lost 1-0 to Manchester United on Saturday, in the race for fourth place.

Last week he claimed that Liverpool have too much to do to make it into the final Champions League qualifying spot but the Spaniard has regained his faith.

However, he also acknowledged that any fleeting ambitions to feature in the competition next season will end on Monday if his side do not defeat Gianfranco Zola’s men at Anfield.

"In football everything can change from one week to the next," he said.

"Again, this weekend could be crucial for all the teams challenging for fourth place.

"There are some important games before we play West Ham. Then we will have to win our match.

"For us, we have to win our four games and take 12 points. After that we will see what happens. But things can change a lot.

"We play on Monday so we will know what position we are in then. All we can do is win our games. It will be difficult but we may still have chances."

Benitez also admitted that Liverpool have struggled this season to cope with the expectation created by last season’s second-place finish.

"We know last year was a really, really good season," he said.

"But in the Premier League the difference in money is so big between some clubs that, if you want to stay at the same level for a while, you have to do almost everything perfectly.

"It’s not easy to do that when you are pushing all the time. You cannot always keep them working at the same level.

"The expectations from last season were really high coming into this one."

Liverpool could be without Fernando Torres who is struggling to recover from a knee injury that made him miss last weekend’s goalless draw with Fulham.

He would be a huge miss for the Reds but West Ham manager Zola is trying not to get his hopes up that Torres will be absent, despite the boost it would give to his side’s chances.

"Liverpool still have something in their bag to cause us problems," Zola said.

"I know Torres is a big asset for them but to be honest I like David Ngog very much.

"I am sure he could be a problem anyway. We don’t have to really be thinking that if Torres doesn’t play, it is a big advantage for us. We have to perform.

"Whatever team they play they will always be a tough game for us. That is for sure. We need to make sure that first of all, we play a good performance and then we will also have to be a little bit lucky."

Liverpool will be without injured defenders Fabio Aurelio, Emiliano Insua and Martin Skrtel, while for West Ham, Luis Boa Morte, Zavon Hines and James Tomkins look to set to miss out.

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