Rafa: Liverpool can win two trophies this season
A bullish Rafael Benitez sends Liverpool into Champions League battle against Real Madrid tonight insisting his side can still win two trophies this season.
For boss Benitez, these coming days are the last throw of the dice to rescue Liverpool’s season, with the Barclays Premier League seemingly out of reach.
A week ago Benitez was in the depths of depression after the shock defeat at Middlesbrough, coming only days after a stunning 1-0 win in the Bernabeu that sets up Liverpool perfectly for Real’s arrival at Anfield.
But now Benitez’s demeanour has changed dramatically as he contemplates a week of destiny for Liverpool’s future.
In the next five days Liverpool face two of the world’s greatest football powers in Real and Manchester United.
Two wins would be the miracle result Benitez craves. The first, completing a last-16 victory over Real, would send Liverpool into the Champions League quarter-finals for the fourth time in five years.
If they follow that up with an unlikely victory at Old Trafford on Saturday, Benitez believes the league glory that seemed to have escaped his grasp this term will still be a possibility.
Benitez determinedly talked up his injury-hit side’s chances, saying: "This is a huge week in Liverpool’s season.
"We aim to progress in the Champions League. It is so important for the fans and the club, and the money, for Liverpool to reach the quarter-finals.
"Then we have the game at Manchester United. If we win then we can still think about the title; if you cannot do that it will be almost impossible to win the title.
"But we feel we are still in a fantastic position, much better than last season.
"We have been improving and the key is to improve a little more in the next week.
"We can progress in Europe. Why not? We know that we have enough quality and experience in this competition.
"The Premier League depends on the next game. Manchester United are a good team with good players but, if we win, we will still have enough games left to catch them.
"The players have a lot of confidence because of what we did in Madrid. It will be tough to go through but we feel we can do it."
Benitez will have to overcome tough injury problems before the Real clash.
Fernando Torres has been back in light training for two days following his ankle injury but it seems highly unlikely he will be risked from the start tonight, much as Steven Gerrard was not risked in the Bernabeu until the final minutes.
Alvaro Arbeloa, with a hamstring problem, is critical to Benitez’s selection. If the Spain international is not fit, then he may have to play Javier Mascherano at full-back again.
That would unbalance his whole midfield and may force him to play Brazilian youngster Lucas.
He seems certain to be without Yossi Benayoun, the match-winner in Madrid, who has picked up a hamstring injury in training.
Benitez said: "Both Arbeloa and Torres will need more time and we will make a decision much later."
If neither of his Spanish stars makes it, Benitez may be forced into bringing Ryan Babel and David Ngog into the side.
He continued: "Much of our selection revolves around whether Arbeloa is fit. If that is the case it makes my decisions elsewhere in the team much clearer.
"But this will be a tough game. Madrid will not come out at us from the start, I doubt that. It would leave them open to the counter-attack.
"But, whatever happens, I will remain calm. My job is to analyse the game and to give the players ideas and solutions - my thoughts.
"If I am nervous or too excited, I will not be calm or control my thoughts, so I think that is the key.
"The fans can again be a great help. The noise they make on big European nights is vital, they are our number 12."