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Liverpool face biggest night of season: Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has told his players to treat tonight's Europa League last-16 first-leg tie against Lille as if it was their “most important game of the season”.

Considering the state of the current campaign, the Spaniard's comments have more than a ring of truth to them.

After Monday's diabolical performance in the 1-0 defeat to Wigan — described by Benitez as “a blip” — the Reds' hopes of securing a top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League have diminished considerably.

As a result the Europa League — a consolation prize for an early exit from this season's Champions League — represents the club's only realistic chance of success.

And while that may be a bitter pill for the Liverpool hierarchy and fans to swallow, it at least gives the squad some degree of focus.

Focus which was distinctly lacking in a woeful first 45 minutes at the DW Stadium.

“It was an opportunity to get back in the top four — an opportunity that was lost,” said Benitez.

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“You cannot change things but we have an opportunity now in the Europa League and must try to do our best.

“A game right now will be a chance for the players to show their character.

“The last 10 games we have been all right. We had character, everyone was working hard, helping each other and working together. It was a surprise and hopefully this result is just a blip and we will see the real Liverpool tonight.

“We realise this is important for a lot of people. I think the players know we have to improve.

“We cannot make mistakes. We could not before (the Wigan defeat), we cannot now.

“We have to approach every game thinking it is the most important game of the season. We have to be really focused.”

Benitez questioned his players' attitude at Wigan after so many basic errors, including giving the ball away for the only goal, in the first half.

Yesterday those that were involved in the match were given light jogging duties with the rest of the first-team squad put through their paces in a full training session.

Those who witnessed the display at Wigan may have argued for hard labour for the most culpable,

but Benitez is confident his side will bounce back.

Liverpool's away form has been patchy this season but their last trip to the continent brought a 3-1 victory over Unirea Urziceni in Bucharest which, apart from a few dodgy moments in the first half, eased their passage into the next round.

Meanwhile, The Football Association have confirmed Reds skipper Steven Gerrard will face no disciplinary action over his ‘V’ sign gesture during the clash with Wigan.

It is understood referee Andre Marriner saw the ‘incident' at the time but did not deem it worthy of further punishment.

Under those circumstances, the FA cannot take retrospective action against Gerrard.

Benitez said after the game he had not seen the incident and after reviewing it on video believes there is no case to answer.

He said: “Sometimes you move your fingers. It was nothing.

“We are not considering it, it was nothing. All the players know they have to behave on the pitch. I was more worried about the silly fouls we were giving to Wigan.”

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan was critical of the club following their surprise victory.

That drew an angry response from Benitez, who said: “I do not know what is going on.

“I do not talk about Wigan. I prefer to concentrate on my team. He (Whelan) should talk about his own club.”

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