We will pull off great escape
Liverpool will overcome seemingly impossible odds and qualify for the knockout rounds of the Champions League insisted their increasingly embattled manager Rafael Benitez.
The Spaniard – who has overseen Liverpool’s worst run in over 50 years of just one win in their last eight matches – was speaking after seeing seven-time French champions Lyon steal a 1-1 draw in the last minute of their match.
The draw sent Lyon through to the last 16 – deservedly so given their three wins from the three previous matches – but left Liverpool in a decidedly parlous position on four points, five behind Italian side Fiorentina with two matches remaining.
However, Benitez, who was not helped by a lengthy injury list including talismanic captain Steven Gerrard and who played a clearly not 100 per cent fit Fernando Torres, was adamant that it would be Liverpool and not Fiorentina who reached the knockout round.
“”Will we perform a great escape? Yeah we will,” said the former Valencia coach, who may well come to rue the selling of Xabi Alonso in the summer.
“I certainly don’t think that it is over as far as we are concerned. Of course it depends on Fiorentina (they next host Lyon and then travel to Liverpool in the final match).
“We have to win and score goals,” added the 49-year-old, who has brought the 2005 Champions League trophy and the 2006 FA Cup to Anfield during his tenure.
Benitez, who guided Valencia to two league titles and the Uefa Cup, said he had been proud of his team and the manner in which they had played.
“We deserved to win and to concede a goal in the last minute is really really unlucky.
“However, the players showed character and there were a lot of positives to take out of this performance.
“The players realise we have problems but they were great. We were much better this evening (Wednesday). These things (the injuries and the run) can happen in football.”
Benitez was also happy to see young Dutch striker Ryan Babel get on the score sheet – with a stunning long range strike after coming on as a substitute – after rarely performing to his potential while at Anfield and which has seen him look for a move to Ajax.
“Ryan has the ability to change a game,” said Benitez.
“He is a good player for us. But I want to see the best of him more often.”
His Lyon counterpart Claude Puel was delighted and relieved to have reached the knockout stages with two games to spare.
“We have mastered the art of writing particular screenplays throughout the season,” said the former Monaco and Lille handler.
“We were very courageous till the end in order to equalise and to qualify this evening.”
Puel, who himself had injury worries and had to replace two of his starting XI in the first half, said that Benitez and Liverpool should not worry that Lyon will take the trip to Fiorentina lightly now that they had qualified.
“No-one should be concerned that we will take our feet off the pedal,” said Puel, who won the league title with Monaco before making Lille into unlikely title contenders.
“We will play as we should play, to finish top of the group and that is by getting the best possible result.
“We remember what happened last season (Lyon ended up drawing Barcelona in the knockout stages) and that means that Liverpool can still play for a realistic place in the last 16.”