Champions League

Benitez scorns play-off plan

2010-02-17 18:26
Rafael Benitez (AFP)

Liverpool - Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has ridiculed the prospect of a play-off to decide which English Premier League side gets the fourth Champions League place.

The Premier League is considering alternatives to the current system of the top four automatically qualifying for European football's leading club competition.

Liverpool, the 2005 winners, have taken part in the Champions League for the last six seasons.

Despite slipping into the second tier Europa League, they are once again fighting with Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa to finish fourth this season.

Benitez feels a play-off system would be unfair, because the team that finishes fourth could lose out on the Champions League to a side that has finished 20 points behind them.

He also thinks English teams already play too many matches and are stretched by the commitments of international competition.

Benitez, speaking at Anfield on Wednesday, said: "If a team finishes fourth and they have to play against a team that's finished seventh after a fantastic season, against a team that maybe finished 20 points behind, what does this mean?

"They (officials) want to keep the competition alive and then play probably four more games when you don't have time, when you play a lot of international football and the players go off with the international team.

"When will you play, how you will play these games?," the Spaniard asked. "What does it means for the team that finishes fourth to play against a team that finished seventh and maybe 20 points behind, maybe we can do the same with the teams at the bottom of the table."

Sarcastically, he added: "If you finish fourth you could play against the team that finished fourth bottom of the table and then we can play 50 games every season and we don't need to rest so it will be fantastic!

"And still people can be in their offices analysing the fixtures and creating different things and players will be injured, which we've had a lot.

"In England we have massive problems with injuries and if we carry on playing games, we will probably end up playing three games a week which will be fantastic for television.

"I'm trying to say that we are playing too much now. The players are injured because they are playing too many games."

Premier League chiefs floated the idea of a '39th' league game in Asia only to see it sink under the weight of fan, club and media criticism.

And Benitez said: "They were talking about the 39th game, games in Asia, now the play-offs, we'll be playing until the end of the century at this rate."

Having failed to qualify from the group stages of the Champions League, Liverpool open their campaign in the second tier Europa League with a tie against Romania's Unirea Urziceni at Anfield on Thursday.

After the disappointment in the Champions League, Benitez insists Liverpool will not be taking the Romanian champions lightly.

"The main thing is that the other team is a good team, they did really well in the group stage of the Champions League, they have changed their manager but they are well organised, compact and they play good counter-attacking football," he said.

"The videos we have seen show that they are a good team.

"If you analyse now, this round, you will see a difference in quality between the Champions League and the Europa League.

"But the semi-finals, the quarter finals, any club in the Europa League in the semi final will be good enough to be in the Champions League.

"We will try to do well because we know if we can win it will be a big boost for the rest of the season.

"We know we have to do well against (Manchester) City this weekend so if we can play well and win this one, it will be better for the next one."

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