Benitez admits Liverpool battle for Champions League spot

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has concerns over the battle for a Champions League place ahead of tonight's clash with Aston Villa.

"Villa are closer to us now, as are Everton and Manchester City, so we know we cannot make any mistakes," said the Reds boss. "Martin O'Neill is a manager with great experience and when you watch how excited he gets on the touchline, it is clear how important it is to him and how much support he gives to his players.

"It is difficult to play against any good team but when they have a good manager as well it makes it even tougher."

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Benitez has set his side a daunting target to turn their season around.

He has highlighted away matches against the top three clubs as key factors in salvaging the club's season.

Liverpool visit Chelsea on February 10, Manchester United on March 22 and Arsenal on April 5, games they traditionally do not do well in.

But Benitez said: "The next target is to beat Aston Villa, then to beat West Ham and then the same against Sunderland. These are our next three league games.

"Then we go to Chelsea. That game will be the key; our targets must be short-term ones to win these games before we go to Stamford Bridge.

"Three wins and a cup win also on Saturday against Havant and Waterlooville, that is our immediate aim.

"The real key now is that if we want to reduce the gap at the top we must win the away games at Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

"Normally our performances in such games are not the best but if we really want to change something, the way the season is going, we must go into these away games with the teams above us knowing we still have a chance.

"We cannot win anything by just looking at the table."

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