Benitez backs Babel to step up

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Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has tipped Ryan Babel to become a major force at Anfield this season.

Benitez paid over £10million to bring the 22-year-old winger to England from Ajax in July 2007 but Babel has since struggled to hold down a permanent first-team place. But having now spent two years in England, the Spaniard feels Babel is ready to step up and make his mark in the coming campaign.

"We are really impressed with him this year because he came back after the summer really fit, he's trying to do his best and it is very positive when you have a player with talent," Benitez said. "The first two years is always difficult in another country but I think if you have the right mentality like he has now, he will improve."

Liverpool face Thailand in Bangkok on Wednesday in the first leg of a two-match tour that also takes in Singapore.

Xabi Alonso, who has been heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid, has travelled with the squad and Benitez refused to be drawn on speculation a reported £30million move to the Spanish capital was imminent despite the player being quoted in the Spanish press indicating he would welcome a return to his homeland.

"Xabi Alonso is here with us so he will be available," he stressed..

"One thing that you need to understand is the Spanish press. The future of Xabi Alonso is to enjoy being here with the people of Thailand and the weather and the game. The next week he will be here."

Rather than viewing an arduous trip to the Far East as an unwanted distraction, Benitez feels it will prove beneficial for their title assault over the coming season.

"You need to know the players, the understanding between them, the fitness levels, you always have to analyse what happened last year and how you can improve," he said.

"The preparation in pre-season is really crucial so this week will be important for us, we'll try to train properly and try to play well if we can. It is a key part of the season."

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Ryan Babel
Premier League
Xabi Alonso

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