By Matthew Spiro in Monaco
AS Monaco FC coach Didier Deschamps hopes the make-or-break nature of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League Group A meeting with Liverpool FC will inspire his team to end their recent run of poor form.
A 3-1 defeat at home by FC Sochaux-Montbéliard on Friday saw Monaco extend their winless streak in Ligue 1 to eight matches and left them eleven points behind leaders Olympique Lyonnais. Deschamps described that performance as "the worst of the season", and is hoping for a positive reaction at the Stade Louis II. "It's been a difficult weekend for me and the players," he said. "I believe I found the right words to say to them, now they have to provide the right actions."
Last season's finalists desperately need to take all three points after slumping to their second defeat of the campaign away at Olympiacos CFP on Matchday 4. They are third in the group with six points, while Olympiacos and Liverpool have seven, and Deschamps said: "This is a decisive match and we need to win if we are to continue the adventure. My players are aware of the situation."
Deschamps' biggest recent concern has been Monaco's defensive frailties, which were highlighted again on Friday when Gaël Givet and Sébastien Squillaci - France's first-choice centre-back pairing - committed a series of uncharacteristic errors. Givet suggested the whole side needed to tighten up, saying: "We have a lot of problems but it's up to all eleven players to defend and attack together. Of course the defenders have to cut out the individual errors too because it's imperative that we stop conceding so many goals."
Givet will continue alongside Squillaci in the centre, as captain Julien Rodriguez has an ankle injury. Deschamps also confirmed that Lucas Bernardi's thigh injury would rule him out but dismissed speculation that Mohamed Kallon had an illness. Replaced at half-time against Sochaux, the Sierra Leone forward has been off colour recently but should continue in a creative role behind attackers Ernesto Chevanton, Emmanuel Adebayor and Javier Saviola, while Jaroslav Plašil and Pontus Farnerud compete for Bernardi's midfield place.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have been dealt a major boost with news that Steven Gerrard is fit to make his first start in two months. Manager Rafael Benítez confirmed: "He can play and for us it's vital to have our captain back." Dietmar Hamann said he was looking forward to renewing his partnership with the England midield player. "He's so influential," explained the German international. "
We've been lacking goals recently and Steven will help in that respect. He's fast and strong going forward and he can make and score goals."
Gerrard's return will certainly bolster the Liverpool midfield, but Benitez is missing two frontline strikers, Milan Baroš and Djibril Cissé, through injury. The Spanish coach experimented by playing winger Harry Kewell and playmaker Luis García up front at Middlesbrough FC on Saturday but after seeing his side suffer a 2-0 defeat, hinted that he may play with just one forward against Monaco. "A lot of teams play with just one forward," said Benítez. "The most important thing is the number of players you have who will get into the box and score goals."
Monaco have won their last two Champions League home matches after scoring twice in the first ten minutes but Benítez insisted he has no plans to counter the potential early threat, saying: "We make plans for the 90 minutes not for the first ten minutes. It's important that my team concentrate throughout the game."
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