Wednesday 26 November 2008 – 20.45CET
Group D – Matchday 5
Liverpool FC are likely to welcome back their inspirational captain Steven Gerrard as they aim to secure their progress to the UEFA Champions League knockout stages for the fifth season in succession with victory against Olympique de Marseille at Anfield.
Gerrard has long been a pivotal presence on European nights – salvaging a point for Liverpool with a stoppage-time penalty in the 1-1 draw with Club Atlético de Madrid on Matchday 4, having scored both goals when the English team opened their Group D campaign with a 2-1 comeback win in Marseille. The midfielder’s creativity was sorely missed on Saturday, a groin injury keeping him out of the goalless home draw with Fulham FC which left Liverpool second in the Premier League, behind Chelsea FC on goal difference. Gerrard’s manager Rafael Benítez said: “He was training today and he’s available. It depends on the player but clearly he is fit so he can play if necessary.”
A draw would also send Liverpool through to the last 16 if Atlético, level with the Reds on eight points at the head of the section, do not lose to PSV Eindhoven in Madrid, but Benítez – whose side lost 1-0 at home to Marseille in last season’s group stage – warned: “They have skilful, dangerous players and we have experience of them from last season. After the draw [was made] people were talking about this being an easy game, but after watching them on the pitch we knew it would be very difficult.” The Spaniard insisted lessons had been learned from the weekend, adding: “We were analysing why it happened and we know we have to improve. There was a lack of intensity and we have to change this.”
Marseille’s 3-0 home success against PSV last time out kept them in contention, but they must beat Liverpool to stay in the competition. Inspiration can be taken from their victory at Anfield a year ago, but the goalscorer on that occasion, Mathieu Valbuena, has a knee strain and is set to miss out. Thigh injuries may also rule out defender Elamin Erbate and midfielder Modeste M’Bami, although Karim Ziani should rejoin Marseille’s midfield following a groin injury, while defender Julien Rodriguez is available again after a long-term ankle problem but is short of match fitness.
The French team drew 2-2 at home to LOSC Lille Métropole on Sunday, slipping down to third in Ligue 1, six points behind leaders Olympique Lyonnais. Coach Erik Gerets admitted: “We know it will be extremely difficult but we did something special last season and we will try to do the same thing again.” The visit to Merseyside last October was the Belgian’s first game in charge of OM and he is keeping his tactical options open in the sequel. “There are two possibilities: you either go for broke, really risk everything and attack Liverpool to put them under pressure, or you let them come on to you and soak up pressure to try and create spaces behind them on the break,” he explained. “We will see.”
Arbeloa up for Marseille contest
Liverpool FC defender Álvaro Arbeloa urged his team-mates to forget about their frustrating 0-0 draw against Fulham FC on Saturday and to look on the bright side, as they meet Olympique de Marseille at Anfield in UEFA Champions League Group D.
Qualification for the knockout stage is the Spain full-back’s priority, and that will be guaranteed if Liverpool beat Marseille on Wednesday, although a draw would be enough provided fellow frontrunners Club Atlético de Madrid avoid defeat against PSV Eindhoven. Arbeloa said: “It’s really important. We want to win and, if it’s possible, finish first in the group to get a better position in the draw. Marseille have some good players with quality and pace, and they won here last season [1-0], so we know that it will be a difficult game.”
Being held at home by Fulham at the weekend meant Liverpool missed out on opening up a two-point gap at the top of the English Premier League. However, with joint-leaders Chelsea FC also drawing 0-0 with Newcastle United FC and third-placed Manchester United FC being locked out in a stalemate at Aston Villa FC, Arbeloa sees no cause for concern. “There is a little bit of frustration because we lost two points, but Chelsea and Manchester United didn’t win, so we are in the same position and it wasn’t so bad. That was the only positive at the end,” he said.
The 25-year-old insisted that Liverpool are well on track at this stage of the season, telling anyone doubting their trophy-winning credentials to keep a sense of perspective. “I think we are doing a great job defensively, but so is the whole team. That’s the way that we have to keep going; defending well and taking our chances in attack,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and we are playing really well. We are in a good position, we are top of the table in the Premier League and in the Champions League.”
Meanwhile, captain Lorik Cana knows OM must match last term’s group-stage success on Merseyside to maintain their interest in the tournament. “This place has good memories as a ground for us, but we have still lost two of our last three games against Liverpool,” the 25-year-old midfielder said. “We have to repeat last year’s exploits if we want to have any future in this competition and the idea is to push forward if we can. We’ve got a game ahead of us, for which we need to sit down in the dressing room, take a look at each other and see how we perform.”