(AFP) – Sep 16, 2008
PARIS (AFP) — Liverpool will seek a spot of southern comfort on Tuesday as they kickstart their Champions League campaign away to Marseille.
Surpassing last season's exploits at the Stade Velodrome would be expecting a lot of a side coming off a hard-earned victory in the Premiership over European champions Manchester United - Liverpool dispatched the French 4-0 having earlier stumbled to an abysmal loss at Anfield by the only goal.
Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez is a past master of squad rotation and is additionally suspected by some of preferring the tactical jousting of continental midweek action to the frenetic blood and thunder of a league which his club has not won since 1990.
But he is currently having to look at the other side of his coin after the win over United sent the Merseysiders joint top of the table with Chelsea.
On the squad front, Benitez is likely to have to hedge his bets this time given that two of Marseille's chief tormentors last season, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, are only returning from injury.
The good news is that, on Saturday's evidence, the absence of both will not necessarily prevent Liverpool swatting aside the 1993 champions, who currently trail serial champions Lyon by two points following an unbeaten start to the new campaign.
"We could not have asked for a better boost to our confidence than a victory over the best team in England, and the European champions," said Benitez on Saturday's win over United, the club's first since 2004.
"Now we will go to Marseille in a good frame of mind. That was our best performance of the season and we now feel we can go into a Champions League game in good heart and spirit."
On Torres and Gerrard he added: "We will have to wait and see how they are for Europe."
With Group D also comprising PSV Eindhoven, the pool contains three former European Cup winners, as well as Spain's Atletico Madrid.
Torres will certainly want to be back to face the side where he made his name and will be relishing October 22, when he returns to his former stamping ground of the Vicente Calderon stadium, before the return three weeks later.
Benitez may reason that there is no need to unleash him, at least from the start, at the Velodrome, as he gives Robbie Keane and Dirk Kuyt another chance to establish a strike partnership.
Given they have to end their pool campaign on their travels with a trip to the Netherlands to face PSV, Liverpool will on Tuesday be out to ensure there is no repeat of the kind of lax showing which allowed Marseille to storm fortress Anfield last season.
After their home mauling nine months ago the French, who drew with fellow Champions League participants Bordeaux on Saturday, have much to prove - not least Marseille's flying Dutchman Boudewijn Zenden, who played in Liverpool's 2007 final loss to AC Milan.
Teammate Ben Arfa is hoping to make the date after missing France's two World Cup qualifiers earlier this month with a groin strain and then suffering a bruised knee.
A further doubt for the hosts is Mathieu Valbuena, who scored a spectacular winner at Anfield last season but has not played all season after summer groin surgery.
"He is ready," insisted coach Eric Gerets of a player who "can make a difference" to the French side's attacking potency.
Ben Arfa says Europe and the league are different animals.
"It won't be the same against Liverpool (as against Bordeaux) Liverpool as first we are at home and the English play a direct style. We will have to play it cute and take the chances we get as we won't have as many," he forecast.
Marseille's new English signing Tyrone Mears is hoping for a chance but will likely miss out to first choice defensive stalwart Laurent Bonnart.
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