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14 Sep 2004 00:00
Liverpool have reason to be confident as they go into their first Champions League group game on Wednesday against last season’s finalists Monaco at Anfield.
The four-time European Cup winners beat West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the Premiership on Saturday, shaking off some poor early-season form that saw losses at Bolton Wanderers in the league and against AK Graz in the second leg of their Champions League qualifier.
The 1-0 loss to Austrian side Graz at Anfield had Liverpool sweating on qualification and the club were fortunate to have a 2-0 first-leg victory already under their belt to ensure a place in the group stage.
Liverpool will be boosted by the knowledge that Monaco will be a shadow of the side who took Europe by storm just a few months ago before losing 3-0 to Porto in the Champions League final.
The French club lost prolific strikers Fernando Morientes, Dado Prso and Ludovic Giuly to other clubs over the summer and Liverpool will feel they have every chance of a winning start to their campaign under manager Rafael Benitez, who took over at Anfield in June.
Liverpool and England midfielder Steven Gerrard, who is attracting Real Madrid’s interest with his sparkling early-season form, is likely to play on Wednesday despite being substituted by Benitez against Albion on Saturday.
The former Valencia manager denied that Gerrard’s withdrawal had been caused by a groin strain and said it was simply a decision made with Wednesday’s game in mind.
Benitez said: “Steven wasn’t injured. With the games we have coming up, it was also good to give him more time to recover.
He will play against Monaco.”
Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia, two of the Spanish signings made by Benitez, should make their European debuts for Liverpool on Wednesday.
Benitez will know how important a win against the French side could be in terms of qualifying from Group A.
Greek side Olympiakos are likely to be the whipping boys but, with Deportivo la Coruna the favourites to finish top of the pile, Liverpool may well end up competing against Monaco for the coveted second spot.
Liverpool’s win on Saturday moved the club up to eighth spot in the Premiership table but Benitez admitted that the club is making slow progress this season.
He said: “If you win 3-0, you can’t ask for more than that.
Liverpool’s new manager will be hoping that the next step will be taken as early as this Wednesday.
Monaco will cross swords with former defender John Arne Riise and on the back of a convincing 3-1 victory against Strasbourg at the weekend, which saw their latest star, on-loan Argentine striker Javier Saviola, open his scoring account.
However, Monaco coach Didier Deschamps will have to do without the Olympic gold-medal-winning striker’s services as he is serving a suspension after being sent off in Barcelona’s Uefa Cup defeat by Celtic last season.
“I will not use just one striker,” said Deschamps, who is likely to pair Mohamed Kallon and Emmanuel Adebayor up front.—Sapa-AFP
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