The pressure is on Liverpool as they enter their final Champions League group match needing a win to gaurantee qualification for the knockout stages of Europe’s elite competition – and avoid dropping into the Uefa Cup and facing Sunday fixtures for most of the domestic season, or even worse dropping out of Europe altogether and the subsequent financial loss.
The two teams go into the match equal on seven points, one behind group leaders Porto who face Besiktas – who still arent out of the running themselves, with six points.
A lacklustre performance from Rafa Benitez’s side saw them defeated courtesy of Mathieu Valbuena’s impressive strike when the two sides met at Anfield in early October – they must avoid a similar performance and scoreline to pick up their first away win in this season’s Champions League.
After the defeat in Besiktas the Reds were left with a tough job to qualify from the group – having picked up one point from a possible nine at that stage – but the record 8-0 hammering of the Turks at Anfield, followed by the 4-1 win over Porto has left them with a chance to progress.
It’s a massive week for Liverpool – and manager Rafa Benitez – both on and off the pitch with co-owner George Gillett expected to fly to France for the crucial match and then hold talks with fellow owner Tom Hicks and Benitez prior to Sunday’s lunchtime showdown with Man United.
Midfielder Steven Gerrard was withdrawn with 20 minutes left at Reading to save him for this match and he hopes the memories of the last gasp win over Olympiakos on 2005 will inspire the players and fans on Tuesday night. The Reds captain said:
“Everyone remembers Olympiacos, so our experiences in the past will help. The big difference this time is we’re not at home, so that’s going to make it tougher, but we’re playing good football, winning games and scoring goals.
“The pressure will be on Marseille as much as us this time. We know we’re always expected to go through to the knockout stage, but after they beat us at Anfield and we lost in Turkey, we weren’t favourites to qualify.
“They must have hoped we’d be out of it by now and they’d already be through, but fortunately it hasn’t turned out that way.
“If you’d told me five minutes after the final whistle against Marseille at Anfield we’d go into the last game knowing a win would secure our qualification, I’d have bitten your hand off at that offer.
“It was even worse when we lost to Besiktas. We knew then we had a real uphill struggle, but after our recent performances in the competition we know it’s up to ourselves again.’
Matchwinner Valbuena gave his thoughts ahead of the match:
“We know how talented Liverpool are – we caught them cold. They are not going to come in the state they were for the first match when they underestimated us a little.”
“They are confident and we will be vigilant and will have to play at an intense pace. We need to recuperate and prepare for this match well.
“If we approach the match in that frame of mind then we can achieve something but we have to beware of Liverpool. They can beat anyone.”
The last time the two sides met at the Stade Velodrome was in the Uefa Cup 4th round in 2004 and suffered defeat after Igor Biscan was sent off in the first half. Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Gerrard, and Kewell all featured that night and will be hoping to erase them bad memories.
Kick off is 7:45pm, live on ITV1 for UK visitors. Streams should be available in the forums.
Most people have given up predicting Rafa Benitez thesedays; Crouch might end up at left back this week, or Voronin centre back?
But seriously, Dirk Kuyt is likely to return to the side and start alongside Torres up front. Mo Sissoko could be replaced by either Harry Kewell or Lucas; Kewell would provide some much needed width to the team which lacked it at Reading. Finnan and Aurelio are pushing to take Riise’s place. Hyypia will replace Hobbs in defence.