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I'm getting back to my best but i'll never stop trying to improve myself.

Byline: DOMINIC KING

COMPARISONS with Alan Hansen, two commanding performances and a goal of startling ingenuity; it has been quite a week for Daniel Agger. There are not many defenders who would have the audacity to attempt an on-the-move back heel as Agger did against Benfica on Thursday evening - let alone be able to successfully execute it.

But, then again, there are not many defenders in Agger's mould.

Elegant and composed, powerful and athletic, Liverpool's Denmark international gives the impression that playing at the highest level comes easily and naturally, that he never needs to engage overdrive to reach his optimum performance.

Perhaps that is why Rafa Benitez felt compelled to issue a challenge to Agger on the eve of Liverpool's Europa League quarter-final in Lisbon, urging him to show the panache in his recent performances can become the norm for a long, long time.

Clearly he has all the ability in the world but anyone who thinks that his nonchalant way means he does not think about the game could not be more wrong; Agger might be economical with his words in interviews but what he does say tends to be significant.

Agger was one of Liverpool's star men in Lisbon and his efforts were crowned by that remarkable first goal of the season but, on the plane on the way back to Merseyside, he was soon deep in thought about the next challenge.

That, of course, comes at Birmingham City tomorrow and Agger feels he will need to be as sharp as he was against Pablo Aimar, Oscar Cardozo and Angel Di Maria - if not more - to help enhance Liverpool's hopes of a top four finish.

"We have got a good squad and we will manage," said Agger. "I think my own form is improving all the time and I'm getting there but you know that you can always be better. After every game, you have always got to look back at yourself.

"It is always important to ask could I have done this better? Could I have improved on that? That is the only way you will keep improving and making sure your performances stay at a good level.

"I enjoyed the goal. Mind you, it was about time. It was a bit like 2007 (against Chelsea in the Champions League); not quite as good but similar. I don't mind who scores against Birmingham as long as we work hard and get three points."

If Agger's performance was of a good level against Benfica, the same could certainly not be said of referee Jonas Eriksson, whose erratic officiating played a part in the home side turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 first leg lead.

On several occasions during the 90 minutes, Agger could be seen remonstrating with the Swede, never more so than after he received an elbow in the face in the build up to the free-kick that ended up seeing Aimar brought down by Emiliano Insua for a penalty.

Even 48 hours after the event, there is no disputing that Eriksson was poor and Agger is evidently still perplexed; what he is clear on, however, are Liverpool's prospects in the return at Anfield next Thursday night.

"What I didn't understand was why you would have five referees but nobody wanted to make a decision," Agger said. "It was nothing to do with the penalties, it was other things. We had such a good start and it was disappointing we conceded those goals.

"It was difficult after Ryan got the red card but I think we did okay. When you concede two penalties, there is just nothing much you can do about it. Can we turn it around in the second leg? Definitely.

"When you see the way we played with effort and commitment, you know anything is possible with this team. Obviously it would have been better to be coming back with a 1-0 victory but we take 2-1 and we will look forward to Anfield.

"We knew they would have a lot of the ball when we went down to 10 men but they didn't have so many open chances. I can't remember Pepe (Reina) being tested so much. But they got an awful lot of easy free-kicks."

First of all, though, Liverpool need to deal with Birmingham and they can ill afford to let Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City have any more slack as the race for a Champions League spot becomes more intense - three points are imperative.

Should they perform as buoyantly as they did against Sunderland last week, Liverpool should have far too much for Birmingham but St Andrews is a difficult ground at which to play, meaning Agger and his defensive cohorts will need to be on top form.

"We have got our target and we believe we can do it," he said. "But you know as well as I do that when you set targets, you don't necessarily hit them.We have got to keep working if we want to hit the target.

"We needed a performance like the one against Sunderland to help us on the run-in.We played for everyone and we wanted to win to get back up the table and it was a good result. A clean sheet always helps and now we have to keep believing.

"Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't but I actually thought after a good first half we dropped a bit in the second. We have lost some games but that is in the past now.We have got to look forward and do our best in the last few weeks."

Birmingham v Liverpool, Prem Lge, tomorrow, 3pm BIRMINGHAM (from): Hart, Carr, Parnaby, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell, Gardner, Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, Michel, Fahey, McFadden, Jerome, Benitez, Phillips, Taylor, Tainio. LIVERPOOL (from): Reina, Johnson, Agger, Carragher, Insua, Lucas, Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard, Rodriguez, Torres, Babel, Ngog, Benayoun, Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Kelly, Degen, El Zhar, Pacheco.

REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (Leeds) BETTING Match odds: Birmingham 4/1 (Ladbrokes), Liverpool 5/6 (bet365), draw 13/5 (SkyBet) First goalscorer: Fernando Torres 10/3 (Stan James), Cameron Jerome 9/1 (Sky Bet), Daniel Agger 28/1 (Coral).

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Legend Alan Hansen Liverpool defender Daniel Agger backheels his goal for the Reds in their 2-1 defeat against Benfica on Thursday
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 3, 2010
Words:1044
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