Benitez looks for league salvation

Liverpool tackle Italian giants Inter Milan in their Champions League second round clash on Tuesday desperately needing a victory to prevent their season falling apart.

Liverpool will be one of two English clubs who entertain Milan’s finest this week as Arsenal attempt to recover from their 4-0 FA Cup mauling by Manchester United when they host defending European champions AC Milan on Wednesday.

United are in action away at French champions Lyon while England’s fourth contender Chelsea travel to take on Greek side Olympiakos on Tuesday.

Scottish champions Celtic host Barcelona, who were boosted with a Spanish League 2-1 away win over Real Zaragoza while their bitter rivals Real Madrid suffered a blow ahead of their trip to AS Roma with a loss at Real Betis.

Liverpool’s shock defeat at home to Championship side Barnsley in the FA Cup on Saturday leaves them with just Champions League silverware to chase and cranks up the pressure on their Spanish manager Rafael Benitez.

Inter would hardly be the opposition he would have wished for as their 2-0 win over Livorno on Saturday left them with an 11-point gap at the top of Serie A.

Benitez insists that there is no Anfield crisis despite his rocky relationship wuth the club’s American owners.

“When you can’t win games the pressure is normal. Everybody is disappointed,” said Benitez who took Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005.

“But we can’t change anything now. We have to think about the next game.

“Fernando Torres wasn’t fit [to face Barnsley].
He wasn’t 100% but I think he will be okay for Tuesday.”

Torres’s fitness could be crucial as Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt has scored just once in the past six months.

Inter, meanwhile, can boast formidable striking resources not least the skills of Julio Cruz, who has scored 15 times this season.

“People talk about Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Esteban Cambiasso playing well but Julio Cruz is always there, always scoring,” said Benitez of the Argentinian.

For Inter coach, Roberto Mancini, Liverpool’s cup reverse was of little significance.

“Cup football is like this, you can lose despite coming close to scoring on many occasions,” said Mancini.

Chelsea should travel in an optimistic frame of mind given that Olympiakos have beaten English clubs just twice in 14 matches and have never won overall.

The Greek side also boast just one win in their last six Champions League home matches.

Roma and Madrid will face each other on the back of league defeats.

Roma’s 1-0 reverse to Juventus left them 11 points behind Inter while Madrid saw their lead at the top in Spain cut to five points.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will certainly hope his side’s performance at home to AC Milan on Wednesday is not similar to that against United.

“We need to pick ourselves up quickly because we have a massive game against AC Milan,” said the 58-year-old Frenchman.

“It was difficult to have a go at the players because we had no physical resources to come back into the game and we need to recover quickly because we will need to be at our best to beat Milan.

“Nobody on the bench was fully fit. I am not sure if Gael Clichy will play against Milan but Emmanuel Adebayor and Mathieu Flamini should be okay.

“I am very confident we can pick ourselves up.”

Lyon striker Karim Benzema is certainly confident his side can pick themselves up for the visit of United and the 20-year-old will want to turn on the style in front of Alex Ferguson who has reportedly already made a £21-million bid for the player.

“I believe we are going to win the Champions League this year,” said Benzema.

“Against Manchester United we have to be able to handle the pressure and keep a clean sheet. It’s doable.” - Sapa-AFP

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin is a journalist with Agence France Presse , who has been based in Paris for 16 years having initially arrived for just a six month summer stay. Born in Ireland in 1965 and educated at Eton and Institute for Foreign Students in Tours after missing out on University by a large margin. His first name is a gift from his grandfather inspired by Radio Caroline but not appreciated by a Roman Catholic priest at christening.  Read more from Pirate Irwin

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