Domestic chores give Benitez Europa conundrum

League hopes mean Liverpool could field weak side against Romanians
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The Independent Online

So here's how the other half live. Rafael Benitez, who spent Tuesday night flicking between the Champions League games from San Siro and Stade Gerland, prepares for a home leg with Unirea Urziceni, a club whose 7,000-capacity stadium is so modest that they cannot even host next week's away tie.

Benitez could not disguise the sense yesterday that he longed to have seen Fernando Torres doing in Milan what Wayne Rooney achieved for Sir Alex Ferguson. "You have to understand the situation and move forward," Benitez reflected. "As soon as we knew we were not in the Champions League we had to be ready for the Europa League and try to do our best. Watching the games, I can say we are more or less at the same level, but we have to be prepared for a new competition."

Even more unsavoury for Benitez, who is unsure whether £10m he made from player sales last month will actually be his this summer, is the knowledge that Unirea are far from pushovers and that a side who beat Seville at home in the Champions League group stage will seek to stifle Liverpool's creativity. "The problem with Unirea is that they are defensively good, play on the counter, so it will not be open, and not a game you enjoy watching, with the ball in both boxes," Benitez said. "We have to be patient and try to do well because they have not played for a while and they are just thinking about this game."

Perhaps seeking a balance between the considerations of progress to a last-16 clash against Lille or Fenerbahce and Sunday's significant trip to the now fourth-placed Manchester City, Benitez may seek to limit Steven Gerrard to 45 minutes and rest Jamie Carragher altogether, though the Europa League does seem to be a place to test Alberto Aquilani at last. Benitez, whose appetite for the junior tournament is based on his 2004 final win with Valencia, rejected suggestions that a decision has been made that Gerrard will undergo surgery on his groin this summer.

Motivation is not a problem, he added. "The people have to understand that the Europa League is very difficult when you analyse the teams – Atletico [Madrid], Valencia, Juventus – strong teams, difficult to beat. The only thing I can say is that if you want to play in the semi-final and the final you have to beat Unirea."

Liverpool (possible team, 4-2-3-1): Cavalieri; Darby, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Insua; Lucas, Aquilani; Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera; Ngog.

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