Tuesday’s Back Pages

RafaThere’s plenty of LFC reports in this morning’s national newspapers ahead of tonight’s crunch clash in France against Marseille.

Many papers report Rafa Benitez and Steven Gerrard‘s quotes that they are confident ahead of the final Champions League group match. Both manager and captain alike agree they would have accepted going into their final game needing a win after the defeat in Besiktas had left the Reds with 1 point from 3 games.

But while the focus of the day is on tonight’s match and subsequent result, there’s also one eye being cast over the imminent talks between Benitez and owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, with Gillett arriving on this side of the Atlantic ahead of Hicks to take in the match tonight.

The Times’ Oliver Kay writes:

This afternoon a private jet will touch down on the French coast-line and George Gillett Jr, one of Liverpool’s American owners, will emerge after a gruelling transatlantic flight. It is a scene that will add to the sense of theatre that surrounds the club’s night of reckoning at the Stade Vélodrome, but Rafael BenÍtez is not one for melodrama. Dramatic fightbacks, yes, particularly in the Champions League, but not melodrama.

The party line from BenÍtez last night was a familiar one – ‘œbusiness as usual’. He insisted that Liverpool will get the result they need to progress to the knockout phase ‘“ a win over Marseilles or, in the event of an improbable victory for Besiktas away to FC Porto, a draw – and that the vultures waiting to circle over Anfield will be forced to change course.

Victory this evening, followed by a home win against Manchester United on Sunday in the Premier League, would alleviate some of the pressure that has been building on BenÍtez since his falling-out with the club’s board, but the alternative ‘“ elimination at the hands of Marseilles and then defeat by United ‘“ hardly bears thinking about, particularly in the context of the crucial meeting with Gillett and Tom Hicks, his co-owner, later in the week.

Kay is right – it doesn’t bear thinking about!

Gerrard is quoted in most the paper’s speaking about the position the Reds are in:

“If you’d told me five minutes after the final whistle against Marseilles at Anfield we would go into the last game knowing a win would secure qualification, I would have bitten your hand off,’ Gerrard said.

‘œWe knew we had an uphill struggle, but after our recent performances in the competition, it’s up to ourselves again. We’re a more confident side than the one that lost to Marseilles. The big difference this time is we’re not at home, but we’re playing good football and winning matches.’

‘œThe pressure will be on Marseille as much as us. They’re at home and they probably hoped they would already be through having already beaten us once, but fortunately it hasn’t worked out like that. We have to take advantage of the opportunity we have given ourselves.’

The Daily Mail’s John Edwards attempts to predict the line-ups tonight:

MARSEILLE (4-4-1-1): Mandanda; Bonnart, Givet, Rodriguez, Taiwo; Ziani, Cana, Cheyrou, Zenden; Valbuena; Niang.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Arbeloa; Benayoun, Gerrard, Mascherano, Kewell; Kuyt, Torres.

And he quotes Fernando Torres who has ‘promised to repay Rafa Benitez’:

“The manager has explained to the attacking players what he wants from us and stressed the need to create as much danger as possible in their area. He doesn’t need to worry. If we get the ball in the right zone, I can promise him the outcome will be sensational for us.

“There is no question this is our most important match of the season, but no one should doubt how much backing there is for the manager. It is impossible to make a change after the success he has brought to Liverpool and I am sure he will carry on. The team and the fans are with him.”

Meanwhile, in The Telegraph, former England coach Don Howe writes about the use of Gerrard in a narrow 4-3-3 formation not giving the influential midfielder enough space to influence the game as in a 4-4-2. Link.

Unfortunately, a lot of the more respectable newspapers pick up on The S*n’s claims yesterday that Jurgen Klinsmann is in the frame to become LFC manager if Rafa Benitez is sacked. The less said the better and ignore such utter nonsense from that rag. You expect better from the Telegraph to report such a story.

Away from LFC, all the talk today is of Fabio Capello becoming the new England boss now Jose Mourinho has ruled himself out.

  • Monday’s Times also had a great piece by Guillem Ballague and Gabriele Marcotti interviewing King Kenny Dalglish and Torres.