Liverpool's crusade safe in hands of Reina, says Benitez
Published 18/09/2007 | 10:10
It is nearly 10 hours since Pepe Reina was beaten in the Liverpool goal by anything other than a penalty but the memory still hurts.
The goal was Filippo Inzaghi's second for Milan in last May's European Cup final. Tonight, in the Estadio Do Dragao, Reina will seek to keep his eighth successive clean sheet as Liverpool embark on their Champions League campaign seeking to reach a third final in four seasons.
Since Inzaghi's goal, late into the Athenian night, Reina has seen his long-term Anfield rival, Jerzy Dudek, depart to sit on Real Madrid's bench, and the pretender to his shirt, Scott Carson, head off for another long loan, to Aston Villa. Their departures were understandable. While Reina's apparent frailty in the air still attracts comment his statistics speak for themselves. And if they do not convince everyone, Rafael Benitez will also talk for him.
"Pepe is one of the best two or three goalkeepers in the world," said the Liverpool manager. "People say Pepe has problems in certain areas of his game, but I think he's fantastic. He has adapted well to the English style, he knows when to catch and when to punch.
"Petr Cech is one of the other best goalkeepers in the world, and maybe there are two or three as good as Reina, but not many. If you watch him in training every day, you'll see that he is a fantastic worker, he has a very good mentality and a has a lot of confidence in himself. He is more mature, he's learning every day and his team-mates know that he is really, really important.
"It's difficult to say how many points Pepe is worth a season. But the keeper is always important in a team. If you analyse our team, in defence we are good but with Pepe there we are much better. He can make one or two mistakes but that's normal, the manager and the other players do the same at times."
Tonight Reina will face a Porto team who are formidable opposition at home despite a constant turnover of players. They lead the domestic league with four successive victories. Lucho Gonzalez, a summer target for Everton, and Ricardo Quaresma, an individualist of great skill but little team appreciation, will be the main threats.
Liverpool travelled without Mohamed Sissoko and John Arne Riise but were able to recall Fabio Aurelio after a long absence with an Achilles tendon injury. He is unlikely to start but should be on the bench. Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt are expected to lead the line with Benitez making his usual handful of changes.
It will be Torres' Champions League debut, Atletico Madrid never having qualified for the competition, and Benitez is confident he will have an impact. "One of the reasons he decided to come here was the Champions League," said Benitez of his compatriot. "He wanted to play in Europe at the maximum level. He's young  but I think he is ready mentally. The problem for him was when he was 17 he was playing at Atletico Madrid and was waiting and waiting to play in Europe. Now he will have that opportunity."
The manager shrugged aside criticism of his team selection against Portsmouth on Saturday when Torres and Steven Gerrard were rested. "I just decided to use the players who in my opinion were fitter and I will do the same in this game," he said. "I changed some players and everybody is talking again about the big names. I think it was a very good game."
Benitez admitted that after his summer spending, expectations had risen. " The new owners have spent some money and I feel the team and the squad is better. The key is to do the right things in the transfer window and then after work with the players every day. This is the same every year but because this season we have better players people are expecting more."
So far Liverpool have produced more. Tonight may give an indication of how much this revamped squad has to give.
Liverpool (probable): Reina; Finnan, Agger, Carragher, Arbeloa; Pennant, Gerrard, Mascherano, Babel; Torres, Kuyt.
Porto's player to watch
* LUCHO GONZALEZ Midfielder courted by Everton this summer. Comfortable across midfield, is renowned for his shooting