Match Preview: Real Madrid (h)

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With no FA Cup involvement for the Reds this weekend, they have had a week to rest before their second leg of the Champions League last 16 tie against Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Rafa Benitez’s side take a 1-0 lead going into the game, thanks to Yossi Benayoun’s 82nd minute winner in the first leg at the Bernabeu two weeks ago.

Benayoun though, has now been ruled out with a hamstring injury he picked up in training and adds to Rafa Benitez’s injury worries. Doubts remain over Fernando Torres, Alvaro Arbeloa and Daniel Agger, as well as winger Albert Riera being suspended.

Torres faces a late fitness test to face the 9 times winners of the competition but is most likely to figure from the bench rather than starting the match, meaning Dirk Kuyt or Ryan Babel will lead the Reds’ attack alongside Steven Gerrard.

The problem Benitez has is that without Riera and Benayoun and if he opts to deploy Kuyt up front, he is left struggling for who to occupy the two wide midfield spots; Babel and Andrea Dossena are the options available there. Benitez could also opt to include David N’gog or Lucas Leiva from the start.

Liverpool have a make or break week ahead with this match being followed by a trip to Old Trafford to keep any hopes of the title alive, full back Fabio Aurelio says “It’s always a big challenge and a brilliant game to be involved in when you are in the Champions League, especially against a team like Madrid. We have some important games coming up but Liverpool are a big club and we expect to be involved in this kind of situation and we are ready for that. We have had a full week to prepare for this game so we are really focused on what we have to do.”

Benitez admits “This week is very crucial. These two important games could make a very big difference.”

The winner of the tie receives a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where a tie against another English team is highly likely.

Liverpool squad: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Dossena, Aurelio, Kuyt, Gerrard, Mascherano, Alonso, Lucas, Babel, Torres, Ngog, Cavalieri, Darby, Irwin, Spearing.

Kick off is 7:45pm at Anfield, live on ITV1 (UK).

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