Rafa going for win, Rijkaard says Barca are underdogs

Liverpool coach Rafael Benítez has been stressing to his players that they must not treat the game tonight as though they’ve only got to avoid defeat. A draw, or even a 1-0 defeat, would see Liverpool go through tonight, but Rafa wants his players to try and win on the night. He says that had Liverpool managed a draw in Barcelona they’d have been pleased with the result and would be looking for a win tonight. He feels that they have to approach the game as if that had happened: “I told the players if we’d drawn in Barcelona, people would have been happy and saying what a good result it was because we could then come back to Anfield, with a fantastic atmosphere, and with a chance to win the game. Okay, we know we have an advantage now, but we must think in the same way and approach the game to win it.”

Rafa hates teams who play for a draw, as he made clear with his comments about “small club” Everton after the last derby. The difference tonight though is that a draw is as good as a win due to the first leg score, but he seems set to play for a win: “We can’t say because we won the first leg we should play in a different way. The question for us is how to go about winning it. Tactically we know we must be clever, but our aim is exactly the same now as it was when the draw was made: to win the home game.”

Another reason Rafa may have to not play for the draw is because of Barcelona’s attacking power: “We know they have a lot of good attacking players, but they can also play a counter attacking style of game.” Barcelona were beaten 2-1 by Sevilla on Saturday evening and Rafa was keeping a close eye on that game: “Their goal against Sevilla came from a long ball, so there are different ways they can play. We must focus on how we play.”

As always, Rafa was keen to make sure the Anfield faithful were praised for their support. He knows they’ll be a huge help tonight, and wanted to thank them for the way they didn’t turn on the team after the last-minute defeat to Manchester United o Saturday: “We know we have the advantage of being in front of our supporters, who are always fantastic on nights such as this. I feel our fans deserved a lot of credit for the way they applauded the players at he end of the game on Saturday. They could see how hard they worked and know we didn’t deserve to lose the game. They stayed behind to show their respect. We will be hoping for their special support to make this a very different game.”

The Reds boss doesn’t have much time to prepare his players between the
two games, but he worked on the psychological aspects of that defeat as
much as the physical and technical aspects of preparing for tonight:
“We trained yesterday (Sunday), but you can never work too hard the day
after a game because you don’t want players to be tired. But when I
spoke to the players, I said it was important to stay positive. We
played well against a very good team and it was clear we did not
deserve to lose the game. We created a lot of chances and know it was a
game we could have won. Now we have another opportunity to show our
quality against a good team. It’s a chance for the players to show
their character.”

There was a suggestion from the Barca camp that tonight’s match will be
like “a war”, but Rafa denied this: “I don’t think it will be a war,
but I’m sure it will be a very good game. Our game plan at Anfield will
be different to the one we used in Barcelona.

Rafa’s opposite number, Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard, believes that
it is Liverpool who are under most pressure tonight, rather than
Barcelona. Despite everything said by Rafa and his captain Gerrard
about the tie being nowhere near won yet, Rijkaard thinks the Reds, and
their fans, are already celebrating: “Everyone, including all their
fans, think they are already through and so they will be under a lot
more pressure than us.”

Rijkaard seems to have taken it upon himself to assume Liverpool are
hot favourites, and Barcelona massive underdogs: “We committed some
errors in our own stadium and I think we now need to take the pressure
off ourselves if we are to play well. We have the necessary quality and
talent to pull off a surprise.”

The Dutchman also believes that Barcelona’s defeat to Sevilla on
Saturday has actually been a bonus for his side: “Liverpool play in a
similar style to Sevilla and their mentality is the same too, so I
think the defeat will help us.”