Rafa: Stevie holds the key to Istanbul

The match between Liverpool and Chelsea taking place at Anfield tonight seems to be more and more a chance for Steven Gerrard to prove to Liverpool how much he loves them – and how much he dislikes Chelsea. Rafa Benitez thinks Gerrard will show his pride in the Red shirt tonight: Stevie will be the key player in this game. He has the passion that we need, the quality that we want and he knows how important this game is to the club. With all of those things he can be the key player against Chelsea. Maybe he will have a lot of good players around him but he can score goals like the one against Middlesbrough and he is someone who can change the game."

Gerrard endured a sleepless night before the first leg. Not with worry, with an abscess in his mouth. Rafa says this had animpact on his captain’s game: "In the first game he was distracted by a trip to the dentist and it was difficult for him to play after two or three days in pain with his teeth. But he is fit now and it will be different at Anfield. It will be difficult for him to play against a team like Chelsea because they are so compact and they have good players like Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Tiago. But Stevie is a good player and he can beat them because, for me, he is better than them."
Rafa’s been doing his homework: "Chelsea have two or three weak points and our players need to find them. We have been working on them but just one player can change all of your plans. Stevie did that the other day. A manager can prepare almost everything but he can do nothing about a goal like that."

There’s been a lot of questions about who’s going to be under the most pressure, and both sides claim it won’t be them. Rafa said: "It is a massive game for us but it is exactly the same for them. They have won two trophies and when you spend so much money you need to win. But we are in the first season with a different manager and we have a different idea. It might be difficult to play in another semi-final or final again, you never know what might happen in the future, so we must give 100%."

Benitez echoed the comments of Carragher when he said that this might be a one-off opportunity: "You don’t know what is going to happen over the next 10 years. How many great players who have stayed at the highest level have never won the Champions League? A lot. If you are clever enough you should realise that this is your great opportunity."

Benitez was asked whether his team were ready for penalties if needed. The game could only go to penalties if both teams fail to score – any goal would end the chance of extra time. Rafa said there’s not a lot of point preparing for shoot-outs: "I don’t have a lot of confidence in preparing penalty takers before a game. It can all change. Players might be afraid, it might depend on which goal, anything. We haven’t practised penalties."