Soccer

Rafa: This week is crucial

2009-03-09 16:04
Fernando Torres (File)

Liverpool - While Liverpool and Real Madrid cling to fading hopes of winning their domestic titles, the two sides resume their chase for the Champions League trophy when they face each other on Tuesday for a place in the quarterfinals.

Liverpool scored a valuable away goal in a 1-0 first-leg victory and enjoyed a rare weekend off from competitive action to prepare for the Anfield game.

"Physically and tactically we have been able to do more things," manager Rafa Benitez said ahead of a crucial week that ends with a trip to Premier League leader Manchester United.

While Benitez thrives on the European stage, he said the second leg should not overshadow Liverpool's bid to reduce United's 7-point lead in the Premier League.

"These two important games this week could make a very big difference," Benitez said. "To progress in the Champions League and to beat United is totally different than if you cannot progress or if you cannot win, so this week is very crucial."

With Albert Riera already suspended, midfielder Yossi Benayoun - the goalscorer in Madrid - tore his hamstring in training and Benitez said it will be "difficult" for the Israeli to be fit for the home leg.

Benitez hopes striker Fernando Torres will recover from the ankle injury he picked up two weeks ago in the Spanish capital, where he played for Atletico Madrid before moving to England in 2007.

"Fernando is training but not in the full sessions," Benitez said. "We are doing special sessions with specific work with some players. Hopefully he can train today and then we will see.

"It depends on his reaction after the session and then again tomorrow. I think he can be part of the squad and maybe he can play some minutes, but I can't guarantee how much."

The return of Torres could inspire the attacking emphasis Madrid defender Pepe expects from Liverpool - in contrast to its cautious approach in the Santiago Bernabeu on Feb. 25.

"I don't think Liverpool will focus so much on defending _ we should take advantage of that," Pepe said. "I'm really worried about the team as a whole. They all work hard and know exactly what they have to do. They are all quality players and they didn't really miss (Gerrard) in Madrid."

But nine-time champion Real Madrid - seeking a first quarterfinal spot since 2004 - will be encouraged by the fact Liverpool has won just two of its last 12 European home matches against Spanish teams. The Reds have responded to away wins in the Champions League four times in the last nine years by losing at Anfield.

"The match is like a final and only a win will do for us," Madrid coach Juande Ramos said. "We'll go there with all the optimism in the world to win a match which will be tough and attractive. The players have a huge desire to make the fans happy."

Ramos seems likely to recall Gonzalo Higuain, who played only in the second half of Saturday's 1-1 draw with Atletico.

The draw ended Madrid's 10-game winning streak in La Liga and left the defending champions six points behind leader Barcelona.

Elimination from the Champions League on Tuesday could mean Ramos, who lost his only match against Liverpool as Tottenham manager last year, runs the risk of ending the season empty-handed.

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