First knockout round – first leg
Rafael Benitez has called upon Liverpool’s famous support to rally the team through a difficult period as they prepare to meet Internazionale in the Champions League first knockout round at Anfield.
Europe represents the only realistic hope of Liverpool winning a trophy this season after they were beaten 2-1 in the FA Cup by Barnsley on Saturday.
However, manager Benítez is imploring the supporters to get behind the team tonight, saying: “We know they [the fans] must be behind the team because they always are. When you have a legend that says You’ll Never Walk Alone, that means something.
“The players have confidence and know that this is now another competition, so we will try to win this game and I am sure we can do it,” the Spaniard added.
“We must win because we have to change what’s happening. Inter don’t have too many weaknesses so it will be difficult to find them, but we have some ideas and we will try to use the quality we have in our own squad.”
After appearing as a late substitute against Barnsley, captain Steven Gerrard will return to the starting line-up along with goalkeeper Pepe Reina, while Fernando Torres is expected to shake off a hamstring strain. Fellow striker Andriy Voronin and defender Daniel Agger remain out, however.
Italian champions Inter defeated Livorno 2-0 on Saturday to stretch their unbeaten run to 29 games in all competitions since losing 1-0 to Fenerbahçe SK on Matchday 1 – and their lead at the top of Serie A is now eleven points.
Coach Roberto Mancini said: “Even though we are winning on the home front, it’s still not enough. We want to improve, and to succeed in the Champions League is a huge goal for absolutely everyone. We are aware there is still a long way to go but that’s certainly our aim. This stadium [Anfield] is part of the history of football, so it would be absolutely fantastic to come here and win.
“I suppose it is true to say that Liverpool are not playing particularly well in the league at the moment, but that means they have to give everything in the Champions League, so that might actually make it more dangerous for us.
“We are going to have to be very attentive and very careful. We have a great deal of respect for Liverpool and we know the next couple of games are going to be very tough. To play well here, in this kind of match and in this kind of stadium … if we were to win, it would be a truly prestigious victory.”
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nicolas Burdisso are available again after suspension although midfielder Cesar is suspended and Luis Antonio Jimenez injured. In midfield, Patrick Vieira could play along with Luís Figo. The Portuguese made his comeback as a substitute against Livorno after breaking his leg in November.