Benitez calls for Reds cushion

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Football News

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has charged his team with building a lead at the top of the Premier League during the Champions League break.

With the group stage finishing this week - Liverpool comfortably qualified for the last 16 - there is now a lull in European competition until the knockout stage begins in February. That will allow the Reds, currently a point clear of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League, three months to focus solely on domestic matters.

And Benitez has urged his side to knuckle down for those 10 league games, telling the club's official website, "We now have almost three months to concentrate on the Premier League, and the FA Cup. We would want to go back into Europe next year still top of the table."

He added: "We have qualified for the next stage in Europe, we are top of the Premier League, and now we can concentrate on domestic considerations.

"We do not want to give up top spot. If we are still there when we start up again in Europe, the chances of a really good season will be obvious."

Benitez also took time to praise Brazilian midfielder Lucas after the youngster bounced back from supporters' criticism with a good performance against PSV Eindhoven this week.

"Myself and the staff, as well as his team-mates, know that Lucas is a very good player. He showed that he has character and quality," said Benitez.

"Maybe Lucas has been spurred on by some of the criticism. But this week he has shown he is a good professional.

"His response to questions about his form - and the reaction to him from some fans recently - has been very good."

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