RAFAEL BENITEZ will invoke the spirit of Istanbul as he pre-pares to gamble on the fitness of skipper Steven Gerrard in tonight’s Champions League quarter-final second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool have never won away from home in Europe against an English team, have scored only twice in four previous Champions League games at Chelsea and not scored three goals there in 20 years. And they’ll 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 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.
Benitez 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.
“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.’’
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 score in the first half.
“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. “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.”
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.”
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