Whether the Merseyside giants won or lost the Champions League final, Benitez always knew it would be a summer of rebuilding at Anfield.

But the 2-1 defeat by AC Milan in the Olympic Stadium has only strengthened his resolve ahead of a key strategy meeting with Gillett and Hicks to pinpoint Liverpool's plans for the future.

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"If we want to be contenders next season and back in the Champions League final, we need to improve the squad," he said.

"When you see the quality of some of the other teams, it is clear.

"It is not easy to find the right players.

"Manchester United just spent £20million on Owen Hargreaves, so we know what the market situation is.

"But if we want to be close to United and Chelsea and to have another chance in the Champions League, we need to go two steps at a time. I hope I get the backing to do that."

So minor were the differences in Wednesday night's encounter it could be argued Benitez does not have that much work to do.

Had Steven Gerrard or Jermaine Pennant taken the chances which fell their way before Filippo Inzaghi's fortuitous opener, when he deflected Andrea Pirlo's free-kick past Pepe Reina, Liverpool could easily have landed their sixth European Cup.

But once the Reds adopted a more offensive approach as they chased the game in the latter stages, Milan were able to find the gaps to cut them open a second time, Kaka feeding Inzaghi for a fine second.

Benitez brought on Peter Crouch for Javier Mascherano and admitted: "It allowed us to take more risks in attack but then we lost control of the midfield.

"Unfortunately, when you do that against a side like Milan, they can kill you with one opportunity. It only takes one pass from Kaka and that is what happened."

Dirk Kuyt's close-range header in the final minute did raise hopes of a comeback equally as unlikely as the one Liverpool produced against Milan in Istanbul two years ago.

This time Benitez's side were thwarted, not helped by German referee Herbert Fandel, who failed to play the full three minutes of injury time even though Milan made a substitution which should have added another 30 seconds on.

Clearly unhappy, Benitez made his feelings known to Fandel and the new UEFA president Michel Platini as he went up to collect his loser's medal.

"It is not an excuse but I am disappointed," said Benitez.

"After Dirk scored, we were confident we could get another but I was surprised by the lack of time we were given.

"It could have made a difference but in the end, I suppose you need to score in the 90 minutes."

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