Rafa to rest key players

PSV Eindhoven vs Liverpool
Champions League Group D, Matchday 6

Rafa Benitez has suggested he will make changes for the final group game in the Champions League against PSV on Tuesday, with the Reds having already secured qualification to the knockout stages.

Those changes aren’t likely to be wholesale due to Uefa rules regarding home grown players in the squad, meaning two players involved at Blackburn – Emiliano Insua and Nabil El Zhar – definitely won’t be involved as they aren’t registered in Europe.

ImageAnother who cannot feature is veteran defender Sami Hyypia who also isn’t included in the Reds’ European squad, and with Martin Skrtel still out through injury, the centre backs pick themselves with Daniel Agger set to return alongside Jamie Carragher.

ImageOne man who looks set to be involved is the much maligned Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva, who has been the subject of criticism this season. Rafa clearly has confidence in him though and told the official website “Lucas will be involved. People have criticised him recently but he has been working so hard, he is the kind of player with a great character who will become very important for us.”

ImageAnother youngster who could get an opportunity is right back Stephen Darby, with Alvaro Arbeloa getting a rest. Rafa said “The players are involved in more matches these days. Kuyt, Carragher and Arbeloa have all played a lot of games this season.” Indeed, Dirk Kuyt hasn’t travelled to his native Holland and won’t feature.

Up front, Robbie Keane is almost certain to start; whether he is partnered by Steven Gerrard, Ryan Babel or David Ngog isn’t so clear cut.

Benitez added “It is difficult to say now who will play in Eindhoven, but it is clear that we will be making several changes. But we will probably take most of the senior players because of the prospect of injuries.”

As for the question of winning the group, Benitez has questioned whether winning it is that important; “It is difficult to know whether you want to finish first or second in the group. We cannot play an English side in the last 16, so that reduces the options.

“Looking at the groups we could finish top and still end up playing against Juventus or Real Madrid, it is also possible to face Lyon or Bayern Munich so it is very difficult to decide who you would rather play next.

“The best thing about winning the group is that you play the second leg of the next round at Anfield, which is very important for us.”

With Atletico slightly ahead on goal difference going into the final matches, and both PSV and Marseille requiring victory to progress to the UEFA Cup, it’s hard to predict whether winning in Eindhoven would even be worth risking first team players – especially with the busy domestic schedule ahead.

Possible Starting 11: Reina, Darby, Carragher, Agger, Dossena, Benayoun, Lucas, Mascherano, Riera, Babel, Keane.

Liverpool Squad: Reina, Cavalieri, Kelly, Dossena, Agger, Riera, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Benayoun, Keane, Arbeloa, Babel, Lucas, Carragher, Ngog, Spearing, Darby.