Who could forget that night in 2005 against Olympiakos, coming from 1-0 down at half time to achieve the three goals needed for qualification, setting us on the way towards destiny and that unforgettable night in Istanbul? Something of equal or perhaps even greater proportions is required of Rafa Benitez and his depleted Liverpool side tonight.
Ever since that goal by Steven Gerrard that made a former Everton striker Andy Gray shout, “YOU BEAUTY” to an almost inaudible level, Rafa Benitez and his Liverpool sides have been renowned for delivering a result when they most need it, especially in Europe. Even during these difficult times for the club domestically, when it comes to Europe there is an eternal optimism about Liverpool fans in Europe that Benitez and his team can deliver the goods.
It is Rafa, with his tactical knowledge and attention to detail, that the supporters trust in Europe for so many times he has come up with a game plan to scupper the ambitions of so many top European sides from Chelsea, Juventus, Barcelona and more recently, Real Madrid in that stunning 4-0 victory at Anfield last year.
The Lyon game tonight could however be his greatest test yet, five first team players out including Steven Gerrard, Albert Riera, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio, and Fernando Torres only half-fit due to his hernia injury, the fans need not only another tactical masterstroke from Benitez but also a performance from a group of players who have been much maligned this season for performances which are far below those expected of Liverpool players.
Benitez is backing the players, but many of them have not paid back the faith that he has shown them so. Many Liverpool fans would say that most of these players were there last year when the team finished second in the league and that they are good enough to raise there game. This may the case for players such as Jamie Carragher, Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel, but what about Emiliano Insua, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Lucas Leiva, Andrey Voronin, Andrea Dossena and Phllip Degen? These are the players that Rafa brought in for players such as Steve Finnan, John Arne Riise, Xabi Alonso and Peter Crouch, are these players really capable of performing to the levels that Benitez believes they can?
I hope and believe they can for like most other Liverpool supporters I know that Benitez always seems to deliver the goods in Europe. In one off games such as this, the quality of individuals matters less and the unity of the team much more, being tactically disciplined and fighting hard for every ball like a cup final is what is required. All three of the last Champions League games have to be won, all cup finals and the siege mentality that Benitez and the club have at the moment, under pressure from all sides, can only help the team perform. The precedent was set in the 2007/08 season when again nine points from three games was also a necessity, Besiktas: won 8-0, Porto: won 4-1, Marseille: won 4-0. You can’t get more emphatic than that. Something Benitez has said he will be instilling into his players tonight.
“We are very positive. We know it will be difficult but we have experience of this. We have to believe we can do it because we’ve done it in the past. We respect Lyon but we have to do our job and play well and win. It’s easy for a manager when you are winning, but when you are under pressure you have to show character, analyse things and be calm. If you are nervous you make mistakes. We have experience of the way we need to do things”
Who would bet against Liverpool doing it again? The stakes are high, losing out on the knockout stage prize money would be a big blow to a club £300m in debt but this is the situation if any you expect Benitez to deliver.
Here’s that memorable goal again to inspire you.
[youtube YSwilt4kfFM You Beauty!]