Liverpool, their English Premier League hopes punctured by their bizarre ‘beachball’ loss at Sunderland, must establish their European credentials Tuesday with a Champions League win over Lyon.
After opening their Group E campaign with an uninspiring win over Hungary’s Debrecen prior to a demoralising loss at Fiorentina, Liverpool are aware dropped points against the French could see their Champions League hopes beached as well as their domestic dreams.
Seven points behind Manchester United on the domestic front after shipping four defeats in nine games, the Merseysiders are inconsistency personified, although veteran Jamie Carragher insists the team can iron out their flaws.
”We have the quality and the belief we will get back to winning ways soon, hopefully starting on Tuesday against Lyon,” Carragher insisted after the Sunderland loss courtesy of keeper Pepe Reina being bamboozled by Darren Bent’s strike deflecting off a stray beachball thrown from the crowd.
Key to Liverpool’s powers of recovery will likely be the fitness of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, who both missed the debacle at the Stadium of Light with groin injuries.
Without either star, Rafael Benitez’s men are less effective but without both of their talismen much of the heart is stripped out of the team.
Benitez as good as admits as much.
”I can only pray that Gerrard and Torres will be fit, they are very important to us. I hope they will be available for Tuesday.
”Steven is the captain, a leader and a player with quality who can always score goals. Clearly we will have to change something if he is still not fit, but that is the situation and we will have to adapt.”
Lyon head into their Anfield cauldron with problems of their own.
The French fans know what it is like to wait for a league title even more than Liverpool fans lamenting two decades without one.
Lyon had never won the domestic crown at all until 2002, when they embarked upon a run of seven in a row.
Usurped by Bordeaux last season, Claude Puel’s side had streaked clear of the field until Saturday brought their first loss, at home to modest Sochaux.
Lyon still lead the table — but only because Bordeaux also slipped up at Auxerre.
They head for Anfield with central defenders Mathieu Bodmer, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Cleber Anderson all carrying injuries.
An Anfield stalemate, coupled with a Fiorentina win at Debrecen, would severely compromise Liverpool’s hopes — though they have extricated themselves from tighter situations under Benitez, and not just the ”miracle of Istanbul” in 2005.
Arsenal are ready to keep the English flag flying high with a win at Dutch outfit Alkmaar having overcome early nerves to win at Standard Liege and then see off Olympiakos, who face off in Greece.
Despite their good start the Gunners will be mindful of a 2007 elimination in the Netherlands at PSV Eindhoven, while Alkmaar have lost only one of 34 home encounters in Europe — to Everton in the UEFA Cup in 2007.
Group F heavyweights Barcelona, the holders, and Inter Milan, are both at home having already ended all-square against each other in Italy — to Russian debutants Kazan and Dynamo Kyiv respectively.
Kiev reached the Champions League semifinals in 1999 when Andrei Shevchenko was leading their front-line. Shevchenko is now back at Dynamo this season following two spells with Inter’s arch rivals AC Milan.
In Group G, Rangers have ground to make up as they host Romanian makeweights Unirea Urziceni having already lost at home to Spain’s Sevilla, who will have a foot in the next phase if they make it three wins out of three at Stuttgart.
The Germans are currently second in the group albeit after only two draws. — AFP