Benitez: 'We're dangerous – we have nothing to lose'
Benitez warns Chelsea not to write off another European comeback by Liverpool
It will take an effort of near Istanbul proportions to see them through, but Liverpool, aware that Chelsea consider their job already "nearly done", will go into tonight's Champions League quarter-final second leg liberated by the feeling they have nothing to lose.
Rafael Benitez yesterday affirmed that Steven Gerrard may play from the start at Stamford Bridge – "If he's available, I'd like to play him from the beginning," he said – but the Liverpool manager is also taking strength from the position his side find themselves in – 3-1 down. "It's important to know that we are now in a very bad position, but we have nothing to lose," he said. "We can approach the game without pressure and anything can happen. If the players play without anxiety and nervousness then they can play better."
Despite the nature of Chelsea's win at Anfield, with Michael Essien silencing Gerrard and Didier Drogba running amok through Liverpool's central defence all night last Wednesday, Benitez is also taking comfort from Bolton's recovery from 4-0 to nearly draw the Premier League match which finished 4-3 three days ago.
"When you concede three goals in a few minutes [as Chelsea did] clearly you are a little bit nervous. It's a good example that if we can score, then it can put Chelsea under a little bit of pressure," Benitez said. The squad have not studied or discussed Bolton's comeback, but there is a feeling in the Liverpool camp that the first 25 minutes of the first leg last week – before Chelsea equalised – has since been overlooked.
"In the first half, in the first 25 minutes we were good," said Benitez, for whom Javier Mascherano will return from suspension in the Brazilian Lucas Leiva's place tonight. "We made one mistake in that time and they nearly scored from it. When they scored their first goal, [Dirk] Kuyt had a chance to score."
Another goal for Chelsea would finish the tie, but that dynamic carries its pitfalls. "They will go into the game thinking it will be very difficult for us. They'll be trying to score and finish the game," Benitez said.
Beyond the bold talk, of course, is a demoralising deficit, the likes of which Benitez admits he has never experienced going into a second leg through all his years at Valencia and Liverpool. Particularly unclear, though, is the extent to which tomorrow's 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster will drive on Liverpool.
A second leg at Anfield would have made for a night of immeasurable meaning, but Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, Benitez pointed out, will carry their feelings and emotions into the capital, too. "For some players, like Gerrard and Carragher, it will be an extra motivation," Benitez said. "For the majority, it will be a very important game and then they will be thinking about the day afterwards."
Even those untouched directly by Hillsborough have been caught up in the anniversary. Benitez has been particularly affected by contact the club has received in the last week from a survivor of the disaster.
"He came to see us and spoke to us. He had a document that told his memories. It was very personal. He had people around him dying. It has left a lasting impression on me," the Liverpool manager said.
Privately, he and the club are anxious not to draw the anniversary and tonight's match too closely together. "It could be fantastic to get through for everyone at the club and the families, but I don't want to mix both things," Benitez said.
That is why he passed up any opportunity to say that it just might be Liverpool's destiny to record a triumph which would rank right up alongside May 2005 in Istanbul. A win just "could be" written in the stars, Benitez said. "But I don't want to play on this too much."
Torres was emphatic, though. "We have to try to do it [at Chelsea] for the 96 [who died] and their families," he declared.
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