Benitez's preparations disturbed by Kewell enigma

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez peered into the immediate future yesterday and foresaw a goal for Steven Gerrard when Liverpool contest a place in the last eight of the Champions' League with Bayer Leverkusen in the BayArena tonight - but he also intimated that the shape of things to come at Anfield may not include Harry Kewell.

Rafael Benitez peered into the immediate future yesterday and foresaw a goal for Steven Gerrard when Liverpool contest a place in the last eight of the Champions' League with Bayer Leverkusen in the BayArena tonight - but he also intimated that the shape of things to come at Anfield may not include Harry Kewell.

Kewell withdrew from the second-leg match before his colleagues flew to Germany, leaving Benitez struggling to conceal a sense of patience wearing thin. "It has been going on too long," the Liverpool manager complained at one point of the former Leeds United player's problems with ankle and groin injuries. At another he stated pointedly that this was a game when even a less than fully fit Kewell may have had a role.

"One day Harry is fit, the next he is not," Benitez said. "We can't always be waiting for him and then having to change our team plans. I don't know exactly what's wrong, but part of the problem is that he needs to have more self-confidence. I tell him that an 80 per cent Harry Kewell is important to us, but if we're always going to be waiting, maybe we need to look for a solution and also to get a second medical opinion."

Benitez remains suspicious of the influence on Kewell's mindset of his international manager, Frank Farina. "When Harry comes back after going to play for Australia, we don't know what happened," the Spaniard said. "But something changed."

Were it not for Franca's last-gasp away goal in the first leg, Leverkusen would have needed an improbable 4-0 win tonight to reach the quarter-finals. The Brazilian's opportunism means that Klaus Augenthaler's side need "only" a 2-0 success in order to repeat their aggregate victory over Liverpool of two years ago.

Benitez knows, however, that an away goal for his own team would put the initiative firmly in Liverpool's hands. To that end Kewell's attacking prowess and Champions' League experience with Leeds might have made him a key contributor.

Yet Liverpool welcome back Gerrard, who missed the first leg through suspension, Benitez stressing that his captain has the "mentality, quality and power we need for this match". In Gerrard, possibly assuming a free role between a midfield quartet and a lone front-runner, they have a player who collects goals of rare quality, such as the brutal strike that took his team through against Olympiakos. "I have a crystal ball," said a beaming Benitez, "and I think he will score."

Certainly it would be folly for Liverpool to try to sit on their lead. Bearing in mind that Leverkusen scored three times at home to Real Madrid, Roma and Dynamo Kiev during the group stage, a negative strategy would be to invite a siege. Dimitar Berbatov and Andrei Voronin have 22 goals between them this season, and Berbatov, a Bulgarian, was frequently dangerous in the first meeting. Benitez acknowledged as much, saying: "Sometimes the best way to defend an advantage like ours is to attack. If you start only defending, it will be difficult."

The former Valencia coach will be encouraged by Leverkusen's personnel problems (which are not as serious as Liverpool's, he claimed, reeling off a list of unfit or ineligible players). Two midfielders, Robson Ponte and Paul Freier, are suspended, while three centre-backs, Juan, Jens Nowotny and the former Leeds player Roque Junior, are injured. Their absence may prompt Augenthaler to switch Carsten Ramelow from midfield to the back - which could give Gerrard the space he needs.

Bayer Leverkusen (3-5-2): Butt; Callsen-Bracker, Ramelow, Placente; Bierofka, Schneider, Castro, Donovan, Krzynowek; Voronin, Berbatov.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Luis Garcia, Hamann, Biscan, Riise; Gerrard; Baros.

Referee: A Sars (France).

THE LOWDOWN ON...BAYER LEVERKUSEN

How do they beat you? Usually with a solid defence and counter-attack. They are full of goals at home, as Liverpool discovered in 2002, and as Real Madrid and Roma did this season, each conceding three goals to their German side.

How do you beat them? With Leverkusen needing at least two goals, and with injuries to key defenders Roque Junior, Jens Nowotny and Juan, it should be possible to pick them off on the break. Sami Hyypia will need to keep a close eye on the striker Dimitar Berbatov.

Key man? Jacek Krzynowek will be charged with providing the service to Berbatov and his fellow forward Andrei Voronin, and has a fierce shot from distance.

Any familiar faces? Liverpool fans will recognise Berbatov, Bernd Schneider, Carsten Ramelow and Diego Placente from 2002.

League position? Seventh.

Last match? Lost 1-0 away to sixth-placed Hamburg.

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