Benitez puts transfer row behind him to focus on must-win tie

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The Independent Football

Liverpool supporters who will tonight march to Anfield from the nearby Sandon pub in support of Rafael Benitez may question the manager's claim that the club's fan-base is concerned only with victory over Porto this evening, but there can be no doubt that defeat would be calamitous.

Benitez and his side have been playing knock-out in the Champions League ever since back-to-back defeats against Marseilles and Besiktas presented last season's finalists with an alarming reality check.

With the escalating row over January's transfer budget and the club's long-term spending plans casting doubts over Benitez's future, the manager opted to hide his views insisting that "I know how important this game is so I want to focus only on this". He did concede that his two-hour meeting with Rick Parry on Monday evening had been "positive" but the most significant communication will be the trans-Atlantic one between Benitez and the club's US owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett between now and when the two men visit England next month.

Benitez's hand will strengthened considerably by then if he can engineer a top two finish in Group A. Two wins, against Porto and in Marseilles in the final game will almost certainly be enough and their hopes will still be alive if they draw tonight and Besiktas can beat Marseilles in Istanbul.

Steven Gerrard admits preparations have hardly been ideal. "It's important that the players keep their focus," said the midfielder. "We realise that there is stuff going on behind the scenes but as a player you have just got to blank that out. As players we get judged on results so it's vital that we don't get distracted from what is going on on the pitch and keep on winning. The match against Porto is crucial."

Liverpool (possible, 4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Arbeloa; Babel, Gerrard, Mascherano, Benayoun; Torres, Voronin.

Porto (possible, 4-4-2): Helton; Bosingwa, Stepanov, Alves, Fucile; Gonzalez, Assuncao, Meireles, Sektioui; Lopez, Quaresma.

Group A

Remaining fixtures: Today: Besiktas v Marseilles; Liverpool v Porto. 11 December: Marseilles v Liverpool; Porto v Besiktas.

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