Europa League. Semi-final, second leg. Kick-off 8:05pm.
Liverpool v Atletico Madrid
Rafa’s starting eleven is sure to cause some confusion in terms of how it will actually line up, with the injuries that have littered the season still not showing any sign of abating.
Not only have there been injuries all through the season, but having made a £17m profit on transfers last season there was never any spare cash to strengthen the squad to provide sufficient cover for injuries.
Thankfully for Liverpool Pepe Reina starts in goal, and he’ll a have back-four of Johnson, Carragher, Agger and Mascherano in front of him. Glen Johnson is set to switch to left-back, Mascherano to fill in at right back, Rafa keeping youngster Daniel Ayala and free-signing Philip Degen as back-up on the bench.
With Mascherano dropping back to defence Alberto Aquilani gets to start a game, almost certainly partnering Lucas Leiva in midfield. Steven Gerrard is expected to start behind a lone striker, although it’s always possible that he will start in midfield with Aquilani in the more advanced role.
That leaves Babel, Kuyt and Benayoun as the other starters, one of them likely to be the main striker and the other two playing wider roles. It’s anyone’s guess which one gets to play which role, although Kuyt is likely to be the furthest forward with Babel on the left and Benayoun on the right.
Benitez wants to get his side into that Europa League final, he wants the home fans to help him, and he wants to do that to send a message to a certain member of senior management who seems happy to talk transfers behind the manager’s back as well as gossiping about the manager’s future. If Liverpool do make it all the way, and go on to lift the trophy, there’s a sense that the senior management figure will expect Gerrard to step aside and let him hold the cup aloft.
First things first though, this will not be an easy task but it’s certainly not beyond Liverpool, who don’t just have to score but have to be wary of allowing Atletico a chance at an away goal. But this is Anfield, a European night, the last one of the season and even if it’s not in the European Cup, it’s well worth fighting for.
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 20 Mascherano, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 2 Johnson, 21 Lucas, 4 Aquilani, 15 Benayoun, 8 Gerrard, 19 Babel, 18 Kuyt
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 16 Kyrgiakos, 27 Degen, 40 Ayala, 24 Ngog, 31 El Zhar, 47 Pacheco
Atletico Madrid: 43 De Gea, 3 Antonio Lopez, 18 Dominguez, 21 Perea, 2 Valera, 8 Raul Garcia, 12 Paulo Assuncao, 20 Simao, 7 Forlan, 10 Aguero, 19 Reyes
Subs: 1 Sergio Asenjo, 16 Juanito, 17 Ujfalusi, 24 Leandro Cabrera, 6 Camacho, 9 Jurado, 14 Eduardo Salvio