We can afford to go out of Europe, says defiant Benitez

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The Independent Online

While Steven Gerrard yesterday made no effort to hide the importance of tonight's Champions League tie against Besiktas at Anfield, his manager at Liverpool, Rafael Benitez, took a rather different tack, downplaying the consequences of elimination from Europe's leading competition and the subsequent loss of income.

His apparent sangfroid may not have gone down too well with the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who have just learnt that steel prices have pushed up the cost of redeveloping Anfield by £100m to £400m. Add to that the lost revenues from a tournament which reaped Liverpool a total of £50m to £60m as they reached two finals in the last three years and the Americans would have a business plan looking seriously shot to pieces, should Liverpool perish.

Benitez knows his side cannot afforded to be daunted on nights like tonight, though, and perhaps that is what led him to make the eye-catching statement yesterday that with so much of Hicks and Gillett's cash sloshing around, a putative £10m hit from Champions League elimination would be modest. "We are planning to build a stadium costing £400m," Benitez said. "[But] if you progress in the Champions League and you are in the final you could be talking about £10m more. Clearly the problem is not money. You want to score goals and win."

Some may argue with Benitez's mathematics. The prize-money for reaching this year's final – £16.4m to the winner; £14.3m to the runners-up – is dwarfed by the gate receipts, merchandising and other spin-offs, and the club's owners certainly need it. Their annual interest payments alone on the £298m Hicks and Gillett borrowed to buy Liverpool are £21.5m and Hicks has been attempting to agree a new financing arrangements since the collapse of a proposed deal negotiated by Goldman Sachs.

Benitez's sanguine perspective, delivered two weeks after Hicks qualified his own endorsement of the Liverpool manager by saying that Liverpool "should be winning things" and "if it doesn't, we'll have to look at the circumstances and have a meeting at the end of the year", comes ahead of what should have been a regulation fixture.

Liverpool are favourites against a Turkish side who slipped to fourth in the league with a 2-1 defeat to local rivals Fenerbahce on Saturday, but few of Benitez's players will be familiar with the pressures attached to this game.

The Liverpool manager stresses the importance of maintaining some froideur in his programme notes tonight and he knows, from the 2-1 away defeat, the dangers of trying too hard. "You cannot lose your passion but you must also keep your mind cool," he said.

Gerrard left little doubt about how fired up he will be. "We want to go for the jugular from the first whistle," he said. He and Jamie Carragher both cited the European nights at Anfield where Olympiakos and Chelsea perished amid extraordinary home support in 2005 as examples of the atmosphere they are expecting. But Carragher, like his manager, did what he could to douse some of the flames. "I don't think the word [for elimination] is disaster," he said. "You can't win all the time. If we don't go through maybe we could do well in the Uefa Cup."

Benitez was provided with an unexpected boost when doctors told him yesterday that Fernando Torres has recovered from an adductor strain and is fit enough to join the squad. The £26m striker, missing in Istanbul, is fitter than he was when he made his short-lived return against Arsenal last month, though a place on the bench seems more likely. Peter Crouch takes his place on the cover of tonight's match programme cover – though whether he might also be on the pitch, with Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin fit, is unclear.

It is thought that Benitez might see Crouch as an impact player arriving from the bench, though the statistics do not bear this out: Crouch has scored twice in nearly 50 appearances as a substitute for Liverpool.

Besiktas will defend deep and look to hit Liverpool on the counter-attack as they did a fortnight ago.

Benitez says he is unclear whether elimination would curtail his spending power in January's transfer window. "People have said I have £25m [to spend in January], or £20m, or someone said none at all," he said. But this is a day of sharp focus for his side's commercial realities. Liverpool city council's planning committee is expected to back plans for a revised Stanley Park stadium scheme during the day and Benitez can only trust there are also still lingering hopes of a Champions League campaign to finance it come the end of the night.

Liverpool (possible): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Babel, Mascherano, Gerrard, Benayoun; Voronin, Kuyt.

Besiktas (probable): Arikan; Tandogan, Diatta, Toraman, Uzulmez; Avci, Cissé, Ozkan; Delgado; Bobo, Yozgatli.

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