Benfica lead 2-1 on aggregate.
3:05pm ET, live in the US on GolTV. Which means more people get to see it, but no HD. Personally, I'd rather the HD, but I'm a jerk like that.
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Brum (a); 1-2 Benfica (a); 3-0 Sunderland (h)
Benfica: 4-2 Naval (a); 2-1 Liverpool (h); 1-0 Braga (h)
Round of 16:
Liverpool: 3-0 Lille (h); 0-1 Lille (a)
Benfica: 2-1 Marseille (a); 1-1 Marseille (h)
Round of 32:
Liverpool: 3-1 Unirea (a); 1-0 Unirea (h)
Benfica: 4-0 Hertha (h); 1-1 Hertha (a)
Group Stage Results:
Liverpool: 1-2 Fiorentina (h); 1-0 Debrecen (a); 1-1 Lyon (a); 1-2 Lyon (h); 0-2 Fiorentina (a); 1-0 Debrecen (h)
Benfica: 2-1 AEK (h); 2-1 BATE (a); 2-0 Everton (a); 5-0 Everton (h); 0-1 AEK (a); 2-0 BATE (h) [Europa League]
Liverpool: Benayoun, Babel, Gerrard, Ngog, Torres 2; Agger, Kuyt, Mascherano 1
Benfica: Cardozo 9; Saviola 5; Di Maria 4; Maxi Pereira 2; Aimar, Coentrão, Javi García, Kardec, Luisão, Weldon 1
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (NED)
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Kyrgiakos Agger Carragher
Kuyt Gerrard Aquilani Benayoun
Well, we’re getting to the point of the season where it’s easier to predict line-ups. Not only have we seen Benitez’s template in nearly every game, but suspensions also force Liverpool’s hands in this one. The questions are who’ll play at left back and whether Aquilani will start.
Carragher played a substantial amount of games at left back early in the decade. Agger played there once or twice in preseason (as did Johnson). As a right-footer, Carragher would be well placed to prevent Benfica’s right winger – whether it’s Ramires as usual or if Di Maria switches sides – from cutting in. In theory, Agger’s comfort on the ball and pace should stand out at left back, but we just haven’t seen him do it. While we’re all well aware Carra doesn’t fancy fullback much these days, I think he’s the more likely option solely because of experience. Safety first.
Of course, this could all be moot with Benitez hinting at a change in formation – using three centerbacks – in today’s press conference. But even if Liverpool use wingbacks or go 3-4-3 as at Sunderland, I still don’t know who’d play on the left. I don’t trust Benayoun to track back when there’s a fullback behind him. I really don’t trust him with three centerbacks, and Benfica can exploit the flanks with players like Di Maria.
That Aquilani came off the bench against Birmingham makes me think he’ll start tomorrow. The rumors of an ankle injury that’d end his campaign seem misplaced, and it looks as if Benitez is trying to kick-start his campaign by questioning his injury in the press and playing up his importance in games/seasons to come. Aquilani would give Liverpool far more in Benfica’s third, and his playing higher up the pitch – nearly on the same level as Gerrard – would allow Liverpool to press Benfica closer to their goal.
As often repeated since the match-up was made, Benfica is an exceptionally dangerous side, and will probably start the same XI as last week (Saviola is still injured). They won 4-2 at Naval on Easter Monday despite going two-down within 12 minutes; they’re now unbeaten in 27 games.
But, being at Anfield and needing to overturn a first-leg deficit, I’m still hoping Liverpool lines up as they did against Sunderland and Portsmouth, with far more impetus in going forward. There’s a bit of a difference between Pompey and Benfica, but Liverpool should attack early and often regardless. The away goal tallied last week is a huge benefit – 1-0 will win the tie, which might lead to Liverpool’s usual European style, but the psychological advantage of attacking without fear can’t be overemphasized.
The obvious fear is getting cut apart on the counter, especially through Cardozo and Di Maria. It’ll be a massive match for Mascherano, while both Kuyt and Benayoun will have to do a bit of tracking back (I’m looking at you, Yossi…). I don’t expect either Carragher or Agger – whomever’s at left back – to bomb forward very often. But Liverpool must go for it. Before, yet again, it’s too late.