Tests on Steven Gerrard's troublesome groin established yesterday that he has sustained a small strain to his adductor muscle, though Liverpool may still gamble on playing him against Blackburn Rovers tomorrow and then rest him for the second leg of the Champions League tie with Chelsea on Tuesday.
If that is the course of action Gerrard and the club opt for – discussions will take place at the Melwood training centre today on the best way ahead – it would appear to be an implicit signal that the Champions League tie against Chelsea is all but lost to Liverpool's mind and that the club have made keeping the heat on Manchester United in domestic competition their priority. Though Gerrard has, as yet, not been ruled out of any matches, Benitez said that he was "clearly not as mobile as normal" during Liverpool's 3-1 first-leg defeat by Chelsea on Wednesday evening, when Michael Essien marked him out of the match and the tear apparently sustained during the game provides some explanation.
Liverpool will be anxious to resolve Gerrard's stubborn groin problem as they pursue what, by Wednesday, may well be the last winnable silverware of the season. Gerrard underwent groin surgery in August and it was a torn adductor muscle in November which prompted the row between the Football Association and Liverpool, after the England manager, Fabio Capello, doubted Liverpool's claim that he was injured and insisted he make a needless 400-mile round trip to the national squad's Hertfordshire base ahead of the friendly against Germany in Berlin.
The prospect of Gerrard being less than fit is a disturbing one for Liverpool, considering how instrumental to the Anfield side's resurgence he and Fernando Torres' partnership has been and Torres was also "less than 100 per cent" on Wednesday, according to Benitez, though that appears to be down to fatigue.
If Gerrard is rested for the Champions League second leg, there would be a 10-day window for recuperation, with no game for Liverpool on Cup semi-final weekend, until the crunch league tie with Arsenal at Anfield the following Tuesday.
Liverpool's Pepe Reina did not contribute much optimism when he put his side's chances of progressing in west London next Tuesday at a mere 15 per cent. "I would say it is more or less 85-15 against us qualifying now," said Reina, whose side now find themselves clinging to thoughts of that 4-1 win at Old Trafford for reasons other than a belief that they can beat Manchester United to the title. "We won 1-4 at Old Trafford three weeks ago and we have it within us to do that again," Reina said. "It can be done."
Chelsea have renewed belief, in the wake of Wednesday night, that they can win the title. "Everything is still up for grabs," Frank Lampard said yesterday. "Who knows what can happen in the League, FA Cup and the Champions League? It's important we keep to the standards we set at Liverpool. When we play to those standards, when we look at the strength we've got throughout the pitch, we are as good as anybody. We've just got to play to that high standard all the time."
That said, Chelsea – four points behind Manchester United in the League with one game less to play – have a tough run-in, with Arsenal, Everton, West Ham and Fulham, all form sides, to overcome.
Petr Cech made no bones about his belief that Luiz Felipe Scolari's departure is restoring them to their natural game. "I think we've come back to our style of playing when Mr [Guus] Hiddink arrived. You can see this is the Chelsea we all knew before the start of this season."