While 4th place is the priority this season, the Europa League can still restore some lost pride for Rafa Benitez and his Liverpool side. The Reds travel to Portugal for the first leg of their quarter-final with Benfica tonight.
Revenge will be on the agenda after Benfica ended Liverpool’s Champions League hopes in 2005/06 with wins in both legs of their last-16 clash. It was of course Benfica who beat Everton twice in the group stages and will be confident coming in to the game after gaining a six point gap at the top of their domestic league.
Rafa Benitez will be without Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani after he picked up an ankle injury in training. Lucas is set to start in midfield alongside Javier Mascherano with Steven Gerrard returning to his attacking support role with Fernando Torres. Torres is one booking away from a suspension and the travelling fans will be hoping he can avoid a booking that would rule him out of the home tie. His fellow Spaniard Albert Riera has been left out of the squad as he tries to secure a move to Spartak Moscow.
Worryingly for Liverpool, Benfica are close to full strength. Argentine trio Angel Di Maria, Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola all expected to start and The Reds will have to be very aware of the former. Di Maria has caught the eye of Europe’s elite with some sensational performances and will be hoping to do so again against Liverpool. Another South America to keep an eye on is top scorer Oscar Cardozo. The tall front man has scored six goals in the Europa League and will lead the attack for Benfica.
If both teams play to their strengths then a draw is the most probably outcome.
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