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English Premiership

Benitez vows to stay put

MADRID, February 26 – Rafael Benitez emphasised he had no intention of resigning at Liverpool amid the growing rumours and saluted his side for their 1-0 victory at old club Real Madrid in the first leg of the last 16 Champions League tie at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.RAFA_BENITEZBenitez has stalled on signing a new contract at Liverpool – where he has been manager since 2004 – and was peppered about questions over his future.

"I was clear before the game that I was not thinking of resigning," said Benitez.

"I plan to keep working and hope things go well in the future.

"We have plenty of time to talk over my contract. My lawyer can talk with advisers."

Benitez is said to have a frosty relationship with feuding American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks but his rapport with the fans remains intact as they chanted his name throughout the match.

Yossi Benayoun’s late header gave Liverpool a vital away goal to cling to and sealed a magnificent win which was achieved without injured captain Steve Gerrard, while star striker Fernando Torres struggled through most of the match with an injury before being taken off.

"We tried to play on the counter attack but it was difficult as we didn’t expect Torres to be injured from the first minute after he twisted his ankle," explained Benitez.

"We didn’t know about Gerrard (that he wouldn’t be available) until the last minute."

Gerrard had been out since the beginning of February with a torn hamstring and the injury-prone Torres now faces some time on the sidelines.

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"I was told by the doctor that Torres’s ankle wasn’t that bad and we could keep him on the pitch," added Benitez. "He was struggling in the second half so we took him off for fresh legs.

"Torres will probably now miss some games. We have a game in three days (against Middlesbrough) so it will be difficult for him to make that."

But it was job done for Benitez on his return to Real – where he coached the youth team – and Spain is proving a happy hunting ground for him.

Liverpool beat Barcelona at Camp Nou in the first knockout stage of the 2007 Champions League and have now won at another fortress in the Bernabeu.

An away goal means Liverpool can progress if they can shut Real out again at Anfield in the return leg on March 10 but Benitez warned it would not be easy.

"Real are a good counter-attacking side and we will have to watch out for them in the second leg if we want to progress," he added.

Liverpool now have the edge in the tie but Real coach Juande Ramos says Real are capable of turning things around at Anfield.

"We wanted to try and score a few goals for the second leg. They scored from a set-piece but it was meant to be a 0-0," said Ramos.

"One goal is not that big a lead and if we play well we can win at any ground including Anfield."

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For Liverpool eating into Manchester United’s seven-point lead in the Premier League title race is the next priority, starting with Saturday’s match at Middlesbrough.

"My idea is to take one game at a time and the next game is against Middlesbrough," Benitez declared. "We just have to see our position in all competitions because all of them are difficult to win."


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