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Rafa downplays Liverpool blips

LIVERPOOL manager Rafa Benitez has downplayed unconvincing performances in preseason friendlies, saying his team's performances have been hampered by player absences.

"It's very difficult when you have a lot of players away, coming back later," Benitez said in Singapore yesterday.

"We have to analyze the team after maybe two more weeks, because if the players only train three days, it's impossible to have an idea. It's going well. You can't say that it's bad."

Liverpool, which had five Spanish internationals arrive late for preseason training after taking part in the Confederations Cup, hasn't won any of its subsequent friendlies. A 1-1 draw against Thailand on Wednesday followed a 0-1 defeat by Rapid Vienna and a scoreless draw against Swiss club St Gallen. The team picked up two injuries in the Thailand game, with first-choice central defender Martin Skrtel straining his right hamstring and fringe forward Nabil El Zhar damaging the medial ligament in his right knee. Both flew back to England.

"They both have gone to Liverpool and they will have some scans and after the doctor will explain to us the situation," Benitez said. "It's too early (to know the extent of damage), we have to wait."

Star striker Fernando Torres, who played 10 minutes against Thailand in his first appearance of the preseason, predicted Liverpool would win a trophy next season, having gone without any silverware for the past two campaigns.

"Maybe this year is more important than the year before because we have a good team and we can play better than last season," Torres said. "Two years and no trophies is a long time for Liverpool.

"I'm sure that this year we can win the Premier League or the Champions League or a big trophy like this."

Benitez said he expects captain Steven Gerrard, who is on trial in Liverpool facing affray charges stemming from a barroom fight in December, will soon be back with the team. Gerrard has denied the charges.

"We're in touch with Gerrard, we talk with him everyday and it's OK," Benitez said. "He has the support of the club. We're confident that everything will be good, and in the end he'll be playing for us and scoring a lot of goals."

Asia tour

In Seoul, rival Manchester United's coach Alex Ferguson said they never considered cutting their Asia tour short in the wake of the Indonesia hotel bombings in Jakarta and the team remains committed to its "exceptional" fan base in the region.

"Never there was at any time a suggestion for us to go back home," Ferguson said. "We did not have any players wanting to go back home. We're committed to be here for the duration and that's what we came here to do."

Manchester United will play South Korea's FC Seoul today before winding up its tour in Hangzhou on Sunday. The team scored two victories against Malaysian opposition in Kuala Lumpur earlier in the week to kick off the tour.


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