Benitez prepared to take Gerrard gamble

Benitez prepared to take Gerrard gamble

Rafael Benitez will invoke the spirit of Istanbul as he prepares to gamble on the fitness of skipper Steven Gerrard in tomorrow’s Champions League quarter-final second leg at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea, winners 3-1 at Anfield last week in the first leg, are odds-on now to complete the task and qualify for the expected semi-final showdown against Barcelona who are already 4-0 ahead in their tie with Bayern Munich.

Liverpool have never won away from home in Europe against an English team, they have scored only twice in four previous Champions League games at Chelsea and they have not scored three goals there in 20 years.

And Liverpool will have to create history by becoming the first visiting side to ever score three times at Stamford Bridge in a European match.

That is the measure of the task facing Liverpool, with everything stacked against them as they face their 300th match in European competition, and their 169th in the European Cup.

If they want to make that 170 before next season, then Gerrard’s involvement is vital.

He missed Saturday’s 4-0 mauling of Blackburn with a groin strain, and will have treatment right up to the kick-off tomorrow evening in the hope he can inspire the team as he did when Liverpool fought back from 3-0 down to win the 2005 Champions League final.

The manager said: “Steven is getting better, he will train with the squad and we will make a decision nearer the match. obviously we want him in the side, winning is easier with him than without him.

“Everything can change if he can play, and plays well, and it is not a massive risk if we use him.

“If we lose a player for 10 to 14 days it will be bad, but that would only maybe effect one game for us. It is a calculated risk.

“The experience of Istanbul will help us, it shows you can come back from a big score. And it is important to realise that Bolton scored three there on Saturday, anything can happen.

“Steven is important, a key player for us. He has power and he can score goals.”

He added: “We have already won at Stamford Bridge this season. We ended their long unbeaten home record and that is a massive boost to our confidence.

“We can do it, if we work together and we score in the first half. If we do not do that it becomes increasingly more difficult, mentally.

“If we score a second goal then they will be under real pressure. But we know we must be almost perfect.

“And we know that with Steven and Fernando (Torres) together on the pitch we do have a good chance.

“People have written us off. Maybe we have nothing to lose, which means we can be positive, relax and hopefully then not make mistakes.

“We want to score an early goal, that is very important. But we will need to be calm and not lose our concentration. Bolton scored three, so it can be done, but Chelsea had already scored four, so you can see how hard it is to beat them at Stamford Bridge.

“Chelsea are a very good team and it will be very difficult, but we have been scoring a lot of goals against Manchester United, Real Madrid, Aston Villa and now Blackburn, so our form is very good.”

Benitez acknowledges that the role of Michael Essien in the first match, man-marking Gerrard, was key to the outcome.

He said: “They did not do things in the game that they had done before. Essien was a big difference, not just because he marked Steven well but because he is an excellent player.

“He is strong, and he is like a new signing for them. He had been out for a long time so when that happens a player usually returns with plenty of energy and desire.

“If we can give our fans something from the start, that could be very important because they will really get behind us.”

And Benitez, who will also have Javier Mascherano back from suspension, believes that the hammering of Blackburn will serve as another confidence boost.

He said: “The team produced a superb display, scored plenty of goals and certainly showed that we can score three goals in a match.

“And Blackburn have a lot of very tall players, and we handled that well, and that gives us another positive message ahead of the second leg.”

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