Rafa confident Reds won't melt in Marseille furnace
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez insists that his team will not be unnerved by the prospect of a hugh-wire clash against Marseille.sports Updated: Dec 10, 2007 12:46 IST
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has insisted that his squad will not be daunted by the experience of walking a Champions League high-wire in the most nerve-testing of circumstances here on Tuesday.
The fans of Marseille, the best-supported club in France, are past masters at generating an intimidating atmosphere in the Stade Velodrome and Liverpool, who must win to be sure of staying in the competition, can expect a particularly hostile reception with the French club's own survival in the competition on the line.
Marseille will go into the match bolstered by memories of their 1-0 win at Anfield in October, when they became the first French side to inflict a home defeat on the five-times European champions.
Liverpool's form since then has improved markedly but a 3-1 defeat at Reading on Saturday was far from ideal preparation and there is little doubt that, should his side fail here and then again when Manchester United visit Anfield on Sunday, the question marks over Benitez's future and his fraught relationship with the club's American owners will reappear.
The Spaniard however has maintained a distinctly upbeat tone in the build-up to the match, reminding his interrogators that his players are no strangers to high-pressure encounters.
"It is an important game but the players have experience of those," Benitez said. "Since I have been here we have been in seven finals. We have won four so we have enough experience and quality in the squad to win."
Benitez sees parallels between the upcoming week for Liverpool and the final few days of his time at Valencia, in 2004.
"We played one Saturday for Valencia to win the league and then on the Thursday to win the UEFA Cup. We won both so I like to be in this sort of situation because it means you are playing for something. We have confidence that we can do it."
A decision to rest centreback Sami Hyypia ahead of the Marseille trip was undoubtedly a factor in Liverpool's defeat on Saturday, and Benitez was also criticised for substituting his most likely match-winners, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, once Reading had opened up a 3-1 lead.
The Spaniard refused to apologise for ensuring his most valuable assets were as fresh as possible for Tuesday night's high-stakes encounter.
"The players are not happy because we have lost but they know I have to make these decisions and they understand why," he said.
"What was clear was that they were tired. We knew that. But we couldn't change 11 players so we were trying to protect players who were at risk.
"If we are fit then maybe in the last 10 minutes we will score the winning goal in Marseille."
Marseille, for whom a draw would be enough if Porto beat Besiktas in the other group A match, warmed up for Tuesday's clash with a morale-boosting 2-0 win over their Riviera rivals Monaco.
Their Belgian coach Eric Gerets, whose first match in charge was the win in Liverpool, was delighted with the way the fans, who have been disgruntled by the club's poor domestic form, got behind their team.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the support we had throughout the 90 minutes against Monaco but we we will need even more from them on Tuesday," said Gerets, who is sweating over the availability of rising star Samir Nasri.
Nasri has not played since suffering an ankle injury when Marseille played Besiktas in Turkey last month.
"The odds are against him playing, he's been out for a while," Gerets said. "But on the other hand he is a player who has something magical about him, who can turn a match with one pass."