Sissoko stays at heart of Benitez rotation policy

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The Independent Football

Will Rafael Benitez resist the temptation to rotate his Liverpool team for the 100th consecutive time against Bordeaux tonight? More to the point, can he?

The Spaniard struck upon the most coherent performance of an under-whelming season with team 99 against Aston Villa on Saturday, but even evidence of his strongest unit will not reverse a policy that has brought him rich dividends for the past five seasons with Valencia and Liverpool. For one night only perhaps he will take the conservative option and avoid a century of change as Liverpool seek the three points that, provided PSV avoid defeat against Galatasaray in Eindhoven, will seal their place in the knock-out phase against a Bordeaux team that swung between average and inept at Stade Chaban Delmas a fortnight ago.

Whatever his plan, you can be sure it will include Mohamed Sissoko. The Mali international who was on the brink of a move to Everton last summer until Benitez caught wind of the deal and hastily arranged a £5.6m payment is a rare constant in the Liverpool manager's approach and a fundamental reason for Steven Gerrard's residency on the right of midfield.

It may seem a bit rich of the 21-year-old to proclaim the virtues of a rotation policy that rarely rules him out of the team, but having collected a La Liga title and a Uefa Cup medal under Benitez in Spain before last season's FA Cup win, a game that came just two months after doctors in Lisbon had claimed he might lose sight in one eye, he is well qualified to assess its merits.

"For me it's nothing new," Sissoko remarked. "When I was with Rafa in Valencia, he was changing players all the time and we won La Liga and the Uefa Cup because we were fresh. I want to win a lot of trophies at Liverpool and think we can using Rafa's system.

"When I was at Valencia he changed players and some would wonder why they weren't playing, but he showed there that it works."

Sissoko and Gerrard are expected to recover from weekend knocks to take their place against Group C's bottom club at Anfield, and it is the recuperative powers of a midfielder first spotted by Benitez when playing for Auxerre as a teenager that explains his consistent appearance record. "Some players need three or four days to be 100 per cent fit again after playing, but Momo can recover in two or three days," Benitez reasoned.

"His physical condition is excellent. Whenever we were doing stamina training sessions in the summer you would always see Momo and [Djimi] Traoré out in front. They can run for ever. They could run marathons."

Sissoko's tenacity, work rate and power have attracted numerous comparisons with Patrick Vieira - and the attention of Premiership referees who have had cause to book him five times already this season. "He was tackling everyone with the same intensity in training as soon as he arrived. A few of the players were worried but I told them, 'At least he is on your team'," Benitez admitted. However, it is the battery in Jose Mourinho's watch, Claude Makelele, whom the Liverpool manager cites as the example for his midfielder to follow.

Benitez added: "Makelele has more tactical experience, but Momo can be just as important to us. Momo needs to understand exactly the role of the holding midfielder. Makelele has very good stamina levels and tactically he's really good. Like him, Momo can be the team's battery in time, but at this moment he cannot be the complete holding midfield player because he needs more experience."

Liverpool (probable, 4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Warnock; Gerrard, Sissoko, Zenden, Garcia; Crouch, Kuyt.

Bordeaux (probable, 4-3-1-2): Rame; Faubert, Jemmali, Cid, Marange; Alonso, Mavuba, Wendel; Micoud; Laslandes, Darcheville.

Referee: M Merk (Germany).

Record of a red rotation

* The last time Benitez named an unchanged team was at home to Fulham on 5 February, 2005. The Liverpool team that day was: Dudek; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Garcia, Gerrard, Biscan, Riise; Morientes, Baros.

* Jamie Carragher has started more times for Liverpool in the last 99 games than any other player - 86.

* Of the 99 games, Liverpool have won 59, drawn 19 and lost 21.

* In the final 11 games of last season - a sequence in which Liverpool won all 11 matches, qualified for the Champions' League and won the FA Cup - Benitez made 44 changes in total.

* Bob Paisley managed Liverpool to win the First Division title in 1978-79 using a total of 15 players.

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