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Rafa Benitez faces mounting problems as Liverpool prepare for Premier League start

Rafa Benitez has a lot to ponder before the new season
Limping off: Jamie Carragher left the field after 15 minutes against Athletico Madrid to add to Rafa Benitez's problems Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Rafa Benitez, seven days from the start of Liverpool's most important league campaign for 20 years, has much to ponder.

Though the Spaniard will be hopeful Jamie Carragher, withdrawn after 15 minutes of yesterday's 2-1 Anfield loss to Atletico Madrid with a twisted ankle, and Daniel Agger will be fit for Sunday's trip to White Hart Lane, he will most likely be without Martin Skrtel, while he will have to wait until October to see Alberto Aquilani, the £20 million replacement for Xabi Alonso, in red.

Doubts hover over Lucas Leiva, a £6 million target for a handful of clubs, while there remains a lack of strength in depth in attack. It is believed Benitez has money to spend – he admits he has spoken with Phil Brown about Hull defender Michael Turner – though he is likely to be browsing in the bargain bin. It is hard to disagree with Sir Alex Ferguson's assessment that Liverpool, given their troubles, would do well to match their 86-point haul of last season. Still, as ever on Merseyside, where there is Steven Gerrard, there is hope.

The Liverpool captain is used, by now, to shouldering the burden of expectation, but it weighs heavier now than ever before. Free from his off-pitch distractions of last season, Gerrard, at 29, knows time is starting to fly. Liverpool came within a whisker of landing their first title since 1990 last term, undone by home draws, and, with the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo, Emmanuel Adebayor and Guus Hiddink from their rivals, could not hope for a better chance this time.

With Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates all in a state, to a greater or lesser extent, of flux, Gerrard is Anfield's constant. Even in pre-season, the stands tingle as he picks up the ball from deep. His team-mates, too, the England international combining on half-a-dozen occasions with Fernando Torres as Liverpool created a barrage of chances, all but one spurned.

Gerrard thrives on his almost telepathic connection with the Spaniard, each clearly enjoying the company of the other. Benitez – and Fabio Capello - will be pleased, too, that he seems to have a new playmate. Glen Johnson, another man with England on his mind, impressed on his home debut, his attacking instincts designed to give Liverpool added impetus. Benitez's intent is clear; at Anfield, Liverpool will go for the jugular, and with it the title.

Frederic Piquionne, on loan from Lyon, scored twice on his debut as Portsmouth beat Rangers 2-0. Emile Heskey scored for Aston Villa as they beat Fiorentina 1-0 while Sunderland drew 1-1 with Hearts.

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