rafa given more time

LONDON - Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's job appears to be safe despite the club's FA Cup elimination by lower-league Reading.

The loss has left the Europa League as Liverpool's only likely consolation prize, but more important for Benitez than winning the reformatted Uefa Cup is ensuring the team finishes in the top four of the Premier League and qualifies for next season's Champions League.

Going into tomorrow's match at Stoke, the Reds are seventh in the league - five points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with 18 matches remaining.

Yet it appears Benitez will be given time to turn Liverpool's fortunes around, with the club hierarchy dismissing the mounting pressure on the Spaniard after the 2-1 extra-time loss to Reading on Wednesday.

"People have been talking about me for three months, I am used to it," he said. "All we can do is work hard to raise spirits for our next match."

There was also a potentially heavier price to pay for the loss on Wednesday with the duo of Steven Gerrard (hamstring) and Fernando Torres (knee) departing injured before half-time.

The arrival of Argentina winger Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid on Wednesday could be a big boost.

League leaders Chelsea, who hold a one-point lead over Manchester United and have a game in hand, host Sunderland.

Arsenal, who are at Bolton on Sunday, are a further two points adrift. Sol Campbell could make his return to the Gunners first team, almost four years after leaving the club.

Like Liverpool, Manchester United will be looking to rebound from FA Cup disappointment when they host Burnley tomorrow, two weeks after losing to third-tier Leeds.

Manchester City host Everton.

Also tomorrow, Tottenham engage Hull, Portsmouth host Birmingham and Wigan go to Wolverhampton.

On Sunday, Aston Villa host West Ham and Fulham travel to Blackburn. - Sapa-AP