França’s late goal at Anfield two weeks ago has given Bayer Leverkusen a glimmer of hope of reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
Deep into stoppage time in the first leg of the Round of 16 tie, the Brazilian scored the first-ever goal by a Bundesliga team at Liverpool FC to reduce the Premiership side’s advantage to 3-1 and set up an intriguing return at the BayArena on Wednesday night.
“França’s goal could prove extremely valuable. I know we are capable of scoring two goals against Liverpool and I know my players desperately want to score the goals we need. We have got everything to play for,” said coach Klaus Augenthaler.
We made life hard for ourselves. We had a string of chances at Anfield and I am still disappointed with the result,” he added.
“The odds are stacked against us. Liverpool are 3-1 up, they will have Steven Gerrard back – they are the favourites.”
Matters are not helped by a mini-injury crisis at the club.
Juan, Roque Junior, Paul Freier, Robson Ponté and Jens Nowotny are all absent, meaning Augenthaler will have to opt for youngsters like defender Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker.
“The young players have done well in recent games. To be honest, I prefer to throw them in at the deep end because that way everybody will find out if they are good enough,” added Augenthaler.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez insists his team have not come along to preserve their two-goal lead.
“We have come here to score a goal because at times attack is the best form of defence. We can’t only defend because it could go terribly wrong,” said the Spaniard.
Alert to the danger posed by Dimitar Berbatov, Benitez pointed out that there were others who posed a threat.
“If we do that then França and Andriy Voronin could punish us. Leverkusen have excellent strikers and we are aware of the threat,” said Benítez.
When asked if Leverkusen’s injury problems in defence and the suspensions to Ponté and Freier could work in his team’s favour, the coach simply replied: “Take a look at our list of absentees. We definitely win that contest hands down.”
Benitez welcomes back captain Steven Gerrard who missed the first leg through suspension.
Benitez added: “He wants to win games for us and he will improve until the end of the season, I have no doubt.
“This is a game for leadership and important players, for players like Stevie. We will be looking to him to have a major influence on the game and to inspire the players around him.”
One player who will not feature in the BayArena is Harry Kewell who claims to be unfit and whose future at Anfield looks to be in jeopardy.
“We don’t know exactly what the problem is,” said Benitez. “It changes each day. One day he says it’s the groin, then it’s ankle. Another day he says he can play.”
Butt, Castro, Callsen-Bracker, Placente, Schneider, Ramelow, Babic, Bierofka, Krzynowek, Voronin, Berbatov.
Dudek, Riise, Carragher, Hyypia, Finnan, Hamann, Biscan, Kewell, Gerrard, Garcia, Baros