Reds cautious over PSV

Liverpool play PSV Eindhoven at Anfield tonight in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals with most observers firmly believing the match is nothing more than a formality. Inside Anfield though the watchword is “caution”. Liverpool have a 3-0 lead from the first leg, and it would take a pretty memorable performance for the Dutch side to progress, but nobody at Anfield is assuming anything.

Liverpool won the Champions League two years ago for the fifth time. At half-time in that match they trailed 3-0, and a win never looked on the cards. They started the second half playing for pride but did so much more than that. This tie is at the half-way point and the score is 3-0 – so Liverpool will not relax.

Goalkeeper Pepe Reina is one of many voices at the club saying that the players must be professional tonight, and must show respect to their opponents: “We know what we are playing for and we know what it means to get to the final, and even more importantly, what to do to win it. We’ve already taken a big step forward, but we must also be very respectful of PSV Eindhoven because there’s still one more game to play.”

Reina points out that if Liverpool were capable of such a good result in Holland there’s no reason why PSV can’t do the same in England: “People say it’s impossible to win 3-0 away from home in Champions League, but we did it. If we are capable of winning 3-0 away, PSV Eindhoven are also capable of winning 3-0 at Anfield. This is the approach we must take and continue to work hard for the right result in the second leg.”

Liverpool will have played PSV four times this season by the time the game ends tonight, having also had PSV in their group at the start of the competition. Reina says the Liverpool side which won in Eindhoven last week was quite different to the one that travelled there before Christmas: “There was a big difference between the Liverpool who played in Eindhoven earlier in the season and the side which won there in the first leg. At the start of the season everyone knows we had some problems, but now we are a team which is going up in form, and maybe this was not a good moment of the season for PSV to play us. I hope it’s the case that it’s not a good time for any team to play us.”

As other teams are starting to hit problems with injury, Liverpool have been much more fortunate – but some of that may well be down to Rafa’s rotation policy ensuring players are used carefully over the course of a season. One victim of injury was Fabio Aurelio who saw his season come to an early end after suffering an Achilles injury in that first leg last week. Pepe had Fabio in his thoughts: “It was a good night in Eindhoven and the only pain in the arse for us was the injury to Fabio Aurelio, which upset all of us. We now hope we will be in Greece for him. If we can win the Champions League, many of us will be thinking of him and feeling sorry he won’t be able to share the experience.”

Many have tried to play down Liverpool’s performance last week due to PSV’s injury problems, but Reina doesn’t feel that is significant: “People have talked about the problems PSV have, but we’re also very proud of the performance we have made to win 3-0. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or what problems an opponent has, to get that kind of result in the quarter-finals of the Champions League is a magnificent achievement and never easy. You have to play really well, show the right attitude and be at your best. We should take as much satisfaction from winning 3-0 in Eindhoven as we did beating Barcelona.”

Reina also pointed out that any team making it to the quarter finals are to be respected: “Of course, people will say Barcelona was more difficult, but a quarter final is even more important and PSV have surprised a lot of strong teams in the competition.”

Reina is hopeful that what helped Liverpool win the first leg helps them win the game tonight too. Liverpool went out looking to score because they knew that would mean PSV would have to play a more attacking game than they normally like to, and of course they can’t sit back tonight either: “Tactically, we knew if we scored first against PSV things would change a lot. When the moment came, it was another game. Now they know they must attack us at Anfield and it obviously makes things a lot more helpful to us, knowing exactly how they must play and preparing in the right way for this.”

Reina expects PSV’s approach to suit Liverpool: “We are also a team which can play very well on the counter-attack, and with the score so much in our favour, clearly things should be easier for us. They will have to take a lot of risks.”

Although Reina knows PSV must first be finished off, before yet another semi-final against Chelsea, he is dreaming of making it all the way to Athens: “I was new to the club when we last won the Champions League. To now be a few steps away from another final, which would be the first for me, is really exciting. Day by day it becomes closer and that’s when we start to dream.”

Reina’s compatriot Xabi Alonso was of course involved in the club’s last Champions League final, and knows full well how 3-0 scorelines can be turned around. He refuses to accept the club are into the next round and the semi against Chelsea: “Of course we're really happy with the result we had in Eindhoven, but you must always remember there's still one game to play and in football anything is possible. We know this from our own experiences. I know what everyone else is saying about the situation, but as players we can't think we're in the semi-final yet. We must be professional and try to do the same at Anfield as we did in the first leg.”

The players are clearly spreading the words of their boss, who also says they mustn’t be complacent. Rafa Benítez says: “There have been comebacks from 3-0 down in the Champions League – we did it the 2005 final in Istanbul. These kinds of games are difficult. Sometimes teams say ‘Okay, the job is done’, but we have to be careful.”

Rafa feels that PSV could make the game very nervy if things go their way soon enough in the game: “We know if they score an early goal they will push forward and we could have problems. We must approach the game the same as we did against Barcelona and try to win. We do not go into the game thinking a draw will be enough. We need to go for a win.”

Rafa wants a win tonight of course, and if he gets that he wants it to be followed by wins in the league so that the semi-final can be a priority: “Hopefully we will reach the semi-final of the Champions League and I hope we can be sure we are in the top four so we can concentrate on that.”

It’s not just Liverpool who are saying this result could be overturned – PSV’s skipper Phillip Cocu says his team must fight and see if they can cause an upset: “We need more than a miracle to beat Liverpool and reach the semi-finals but we are not going to England just for a holiday. It is obvious that in Eindhoven they were the better side, but I thought the 3-0 scoreline was harsh. We had some chances to score but we didn't take them.”
Just as Liverpool went out for the second half in Istanbul playing for pride, so are PSV for tonight’s second leg: “We are not going to throw this game because we are playing for pride and we don't want it to be ridiculous. Any kind of win at Anfield would leave a good taste in our mouths, so we will try to score a goal and see what happens.”