Liverpool to focus on top 4 after FA Cup loss

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's job appears to be safe despite the club's FA Cup elimination by lower-league Reading.

Updated: January 15, 2010 14:50 IST
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Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's job appears to be safe despite the club's FA Cup elimination by lower-league Reading.

The loss has left the Europa League as Liverpool's only likely consolation prize, but more important for Benitez than winning the reformatted _ but still widely derided _ UEFA Cup is ensuring the team finishes in the top four of the Premier League and qualifies for next season's Champions League.

Going into Saturday's match at Stoke, the Reds are seventh in the league _ five points behind fourth-place Manchester City with 18 matches remaining. Yet it appears that Benitez will be given time to turn around Liverpool's fortunes with the club hierarchy privately dismissing the mounting pressure on the Spaniard following the 2-1 extra time loss to Reading on Wednesday.

"People have been talking about me for three months, I am used to it," Benitez said. "All we can do is continue to work hard, to think only of raising spirits for our next match.

"Everyone is very disappointed. It was a massive competition that we wanted to do well in. As for me, I will continue to do my best all the time. We have to carry on. We have to improve."

Liverpool had been leading League Championship club Reading in the fourth minute of stoppage time until Yossi Benayoun conceded a penalty kick. Reading leveled before scoring a 100th-minute winner.

There was also a potentially heavier price to pay for the loss with the duo of Steven Gerrard (hamstring) and Fernando Torres (knee) departing injured before halftime. With time against Benitez, he can't afford for them to be out for long.

The arrival of Argentina winger Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid on Wednesday could be a big boost.

"He can help me score goals _ one of the main qualities he has is to help strikers," Torres said. "He will help Stevie, Dirk (Kuyt) or myself to score goals because he gets a lot of assists. Maxi will help us a lot.

"I played with him for two seasons at Atletico and he's a very good player. I am sure he'll score goals and work hard."

After Liverpool travels to Stoke in Saturday's early match, the focus will shift to the title race.

League leader Chelsea, which holds a one-point lead over Manchester United and has a game in hand, hosts Sunderland. Arsenal, which is at Bolton on Sunday, is a further two points adrift.

"Thankfully the teams in and around us have been slipping up as well, but Arsenal are right back in the frame again," Chelsea captain John Terry said. "When we beat them 3-0 (in November) I thought they were out of it to be honest. We need to concentrate on ourselves because apart from the Watford (FA Cup) victory, when we were brilliant albeit against a lesser side, we haven't been playing as well."

Like Liverpool, Man United will be looking to rebound from FA Cup disappointment when it hosts Burnley two weeks after losing to third-tier Leeds.

"We have been written off all season. We need to use all that as a fuel," United midfielder Darren Fletcher said from a training camp in Qatar. "It hasn't been the easiest of times. There has been a lot of disruption. The injuries in defense have seen players playing all over the place, myself included. It is difficult to get a run of form when things like that happen."

Another person with a point to prove is Sol Campbell, who could make his return to the Arsenal first-team at Bolton, almost four years after leaving the club. The 35-year-old defender, who has been training with the Gunners since October, played for the reserve team on Tuesday as a prelude to a six-month contract being signed.

Manchester City will be without Emmanuel Adebayor when it goes to Everton on Saturday. The Togo striker is on compassionate leave following the deadly attack on his national team's bus at the African Cup of Nations last Friday.

Also Saturday, Tottenham will hoping Man City slips up and it beats Hull to return to fourth place, bottom-place Portsmouth hosts Birmingham, which is on a 12-match unbeaten run, and Wigan is at Wolverhampton. On Sunday, Aston Villa hosts West Ham and Fulham travels to Blackburn.

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