Benitez backs Liverpool to pip Manchester United to fourth

The Napoli boss believes that the Reds can capitalise in the second half of the season without any European commitments and has hailed the progress of winger Raheem Sterling

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has backed the Reds to finish above Manchester United and claim a top-four spot in the Premier League this season.

Brendan Rodgers’ side currently occupy fourth place in the table, one point above Everton in fifth and five ahead of United, who are languishing in seventh after 21 matches played.

And Benitez, who guided Liverpool to second place back in 2008-09, believes the Reds will capitalise on the advantage of not having to play in Europe in the second half of the season and finish in the Champions League spots.

“I think it will be the season when my old club Liverpool will finish in the top four, and get back to experiencing the great Anfield Champions League nights which were very special to me,” the Napoli boss wrote in his column for The Independent.

“I think there will be a changing of places because Liverpool coming fourth will mean Manchester United finishing outside of the Champions League.

“It is hard to talk confidently about these things in a crazy British season, of course, but Liverpool will have one important advantage when January is over. That is time.

“They don’t have to play in Europe in the months ahead and that is a big advantage when the others are distracted by those commitments.

“City and Chelsea look like the best two squads in the Premier League to me. Looking from the outside here in Italy – from where I probably see less Premier League football than you – they are developing that soaring confidence.

“Chelsea are spending more money now, too, and building on the Europa League we won there. So, they are a little bit ahead of the others, with Arsenal just behind in the group who are stronger than all the rest.

“We will have to see if Manchester United can make it into the top four and, after all I have learnt about the club over the years, I know that you cannot rule it out.”

Raheem Sterling has emerged as a key member of Rodgers’ side, starting the Reds’ last 10 games, and Benitez spoke highly of the teenager, suggesting he has a good chance of breaking into England’s squad for the World Cup.

“I am sure we will talk more about England as the summer comes near, but one of the players we must watch now is Raheem Sterling,” he added. “I remember the day I met him, with his mother Nadine at Melwood.

“The head of our academy, Frank McParland, had been telling me how good he was and that we must sign him and when I took him on the tour of our Liverpool training ground that day we came across Fernando Torres. I introduced him to Fernando and he wasn’t fazed. That told me something.

“He was very young but he had that quality of wanting to receive and be on the ball. That is rare. England could benefit from the way he is meeting some of the expectations we had back then.”

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