Gerrard rallies the troops – including the 12th man

According to Benfica boss Ronald Koeman the big concern for the Portuguese side has to be Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard. Koeman says that Gerrard is capable of turning a game single-handedly: “Steven Gerrard is one of the very best, whether he plays on the right or in midfield. He can decide games on his own. He makes the crosses, he makes passes and shoots. We know that we have to control him. We know we must play better than we did in the first leg – maybe we were a little lucky to score so late in the game, but that is football – matches are decided on very little details.”

Gerrard was unable to play for more than a short part of the first leg due to a dead leg injury he’d received beforehand. Tonight he’s expected to play from the start and he’s issued a rallying call to his team-mates: “We have to show everyone why we’re European Champions. We deserved the title last year for the way we came back and this is our biggest test so for in this year’s competition. We’ve got the belief and confidence to get the result we need.”

Gerrard says that despite so many writing off Liverpool’s chances after
the first-leg defeat, it certainly wasn’t the feeling amongst the
squad: “I know it sounds strange to take something positive from a
negative result, but when we were in the dressing room after the game
in Portugal, none of us was thinking we’ve blown it. There is just
something about this team, this group of players and our fans which
almost relishes being up against it.”
Gerrard says Liverpool have played some of their worse European games
when they haven’t needed to score: “I’ve felt some of our least
impressive European performances have been in games where we’ve been
protecting a lead or happy with a draw. It can be dangerous when you’re
in a negative mindset and you’re caught between attacking or sitting on
what you’ve got. It’s when we’ve known we’ve had to go for it you’ve
seen the best out of us. That’s the situation we’re in now and that’s
why we’re all looking forward to tonight so much.”

Last season Liverpool were rarely favourites for any game they played
in. Memorable fixtures littered the whole Champions League run last
season, the 3-1 win against Olympiakos would have been the comeback of
the season had it not been for the matter of that game in Turkey. Even
before the final Liverpool were odds-on favourites to lose. 3-0 down at
half-time and anyone backing them to win could have been led away by
men in white coats. Liverpool fans are hoping for something as good
tonight from the Reds, who must score at least twice but probably three
times to go through. Gerrard thinks that will help: “We won’t know
until after the game if it’s going to be the same again, but last year
fighting against the odds actually helped us. We’ve got to play at a
high tempo from the start and look for goals. We also know we’ve got to
be careful about how we go about it, but I’m sure you’re going to see
us at our best tonight.”

Gerrard’s expectations of how Benfica will play weren’t a surprise,
it’s up to the Reds to overcome that: “I expect Benfica to be
organised, not giving anything away and trying to play on the break, so
the onus is going to be on us to break them down. We’ve got the players
to do that. Benfica have a lot of respect for us and they’ll be well
aware of what we did at Anfield last season. They know they’re going to
have to produce one of their best performances to knock us out, so
we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The game against Olympiakos was one Liverpool went into needing a win
by a margin of two clear goals. A free kick in the first half meant
they were trailing 1-0 by half-time. The first leg of this tie against
Benfica was won with a free-kick, effectively putting Benfica 1-0 up at
half-time: “Ideally we wouldn’t have slipped up on a set-piece and
conceded that goal, but we now find ourselves in an identical situation
to the one against Olympiakos. We knew we had to beat them by two
goals. We’ve also got our own fans behind us and when they make the
kind of noise they do on a European night, it really helps us.”

European nights at Anfield have always been special; the attitude of
Jose Mourinho made the match against Chelsea last season even more of a
night for the voices to be heard. Gerrard hopes the crowd tonight find
their voices: “The players here still talk about the crowd on the night
we beat Chelsea, and how their singing 45 minutes before kick-off got
everyone in the dressing room going. It was a massive help, and it will
be again tonight.”

Sami Hyypia looks set to start tonight’s match after coming through a
hamstring problem. Daniel Agger is not available for European action
due to being cup-tied and the same applies to Jan Kromkamp. With Steven
Gerrard required in his more familiar central role alongside Xabi
Alonso Rafa Benitez may start with Djibril Cisse on the right wing.
However the young right-winger Paul Anderson may be a surprise
inclusion as substitute tonight. UEFA rules allow seven subs to be
selected, so even if the seventeen-year-old doesn’t play it would be a
great bit of experience for him to be involved on a night like this.

The new fans’ banner will also be making its debut tonight.