Liverpool’s game against Juventus is being billed by many as the biggest game in years for Liverpool. With fourth place far from certain in the Premiership, winning the tournament outright could be their only way into the competition next season.
One of the reasons for the problems in the Premiership this season has undoubtedly been the difficulty manager Rafa Benitez has had in being able to choose the same team two games running. Steven Gerrard was ruled out on Monday, but could be replaced by Xabi Alonso in midfield – he’s now raring to go after an ankle injury. Another players ahead of schedule is Djibril Cisse – at first it was thought he’d be out until at least the start of next season – now he’s ready to take a place on the bench tomorrow, although he’s not even had a reserves run-out yet..
Rafa thinks that it could be worth the risk: "When you have big problems, you need big solutions. We have been trying to recuperate some players for the squad for some weeks now. For this game, OK, we know Djibril Cisse has not played for six months but he is a good player, he’s quick, he can score goals and he is a possibility. Even forgetting this match and thinking about our next games, it’s important to have more good players in the squad. We will have to make a decision on Xabi on Wednesday. He can play because there is no problem with his ankle, that is fine, but his problem is that he’s not in the physical condition that you need at this level. Against that, we have to weight up the fact that he is an important player, he’s a good passer and he can control the game. The decision we need to make is whether he will play the second half or whether he can start the game."
Despite the Gerrard set-back, it does seem that Liverpool’s injury nightmares are turning round: "I think in the next few weeks we will see more players either playing or training with the team again," said Benitez. "Josemi is close to coming back and also Dietmar Hamann and Harry Kewell. I hope that in maybe two or three weeks, we could see all the squad training again. Everyone knows that Stevie is a key player for us and we were thinking about maybe using him but we knew that it could be a big risk. In the end we decided to leave him behind to work with the physio so he could be ready for the next game. For us it is bad news but we will try to do different things without him."
Rafael Benitez has found that the Champions League has been the
competition that which has seen their best performances. Whether this is
because Benitez has more knowledge of tactics in Europe or if it’s
down to the attitude of the players stepping up a level on the bigger
stage isn’t clear yet. Benitez says there is more to these games than tactics: " I always say that at this level it is about 11 good players playing against 11 good players. Sometimes tactics can win a match, other times it could be a mistake that decides things or even a goal from a set piece. Football is always different. Chess is a tactical battle because it is one player against another but here you have 22 players and a referee and anything can happen."
Rafa says that he’ll not be playing for a draw – and that the first goal could be important: "It will be very important if we score it! We are going to Turin to win the match. We will try to be compact in defence and try to score a goal. They will attack, sure, but that will leave us space and maybe we will have more options."
Prior to the first leg the talk was all about how Juventus just don’t concede goals. Then things changed: "They conceded two against us in the Champions League and three at the weekend in the league so that is five in two games. That is good news for us."
Liverpool’s performance came as a surprise to many, who had Liverpool down as having no hope of a result. With the away goal being scored by Juve, Liverpool are again being written off. Benitez doesn’t mind: "It is good for us that people say these things. When you look at the
players they have and the fact that they are playing in the Stadio
Delle Alpi, I can see why people say they are the favourite but
remember that they were the favourites at Anfield and we won."
As far as the fans behaviour in Turin the message from Rafa was clear – show respect yes, but remember – you are there to watch a football game and once that game starts, get behind us. He said, "I think it’s important to have respect for the opposing supporters but after that they must cheer our team as normal. The fans know how important their cheering is for us. We must respect what has happened in the past but this is a football game."
Another dilemma for Benitez is who stands in as skipper tomorrow night. In Gerrard’s absence earlier in the season Sami Hyypia stepped in, but he’s since lost his place as a first-choice member of the team to Pellegrino, who’s cup-tied tomorrow. Jamie Carragher has been first-choice all season, and could be given the job. Alonso is an important player to Rafa, could he get the role? Benitez wouldn’t say too much, just, "Maybe Sami."