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Koeman plots PSV 'surprise'

Injuries are mounting, and their lead at the top of the Eredivisie is shortening, yet PSV Eindhoven were focused and relaxed before in-form Liverpool FC's visit.

Their injury list is lengthening, their lead at the top of the Eredivisie is shortening, and on Tuesday they play their most important match of the season to date. But as the spring sun shone down, PSV Eindhoven appeared relaxed.

The sight of goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes enjoying a kickaround with his two-year-old son as training wound down suggested they are enjoying the moment. Few expected PSV to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League; coach Ronald Koeman insisted they could yet go further as he prepared for the first leg against Liverpool FC. "Liverpool will have to be on their game to beat us, even though we have problems with injuries," he said. "To win games at this level you need a fit team, but in this competition over two matches there are surprises. Arsenal [FC] know that and Liverpool will know that too. You always have chances in these sorts of matches."

Afellay doubt
Fortune, though, has not favoured PSV. Injuries to inspirational centre-back Alex and striker Arouna Koné were compounded when playmaker Ibrahim Afellay strained a hamstring in Saturday's 1-1 draw at NAC Breda. Koeman, who is expected to ask Manuel Da Costa to deputise for Alex, revealed Afellay will need a scan to determine his fitness, yet otherwise gave little away.

English successes
"With the situation as it is, the last thing we want to do is put all our cards on the table," Koeman said, before dismissing as "coincidence" the successes he has enjoyed as a coach, this season against Arsenal, and last when his SL Benfica team eliminated both Liverpool and Manchester United FC from this competition. "Liverpool are in form and I expect a match like we had in the group stage against them. It's going to be very tough, but if it's 0-0 or 1-0 we will be happy."

Rising expectations
While PSV are without a win since ousting Arsenal, Liverpool's confidence has grown subsequent to beating holders FC Barcelona in the previous round. The 2005 UEFA Champions League winners defeated Arsenal 4-1 on Saturday and will hope to improve on the goalless draw here in September. Manager Rafael Benítez, though, was doing his best to dampen rising expectations.

"I think we have a better team than the one that won the Champions League, but you never know," said the Spaniard. "It's normal when you get to this stage that people talk about the final but you must go one step at a time and in this case, PSV will be a very difficult team to play against. The problem could be that we have more confidence so we have to be careful and put the players under pressure. Start winning and then we can talk."

Mascherano in
Benítez is without the suspended Mohamed Sissoko but has the luxury of giving Argentinian anchorman Javier Mascherano his first UEFA Champions League start. Striker Peter Crouch scored in the 2-0 victory against PSV at Anfield in November and after hitting a hat-trick against Arsenal, will hope to keep his place, although Dutchman Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy are pushing for recalls.

Probable teams
PSV: Heurelho Gomes; Jan Kromkamp, Carlos Salcido, Manuel Da Costa, Sun Xiang; Edison Méndez, Phillip Cocu, Timmy Simons, Mika Väyrynen, Jason Culina; Jefferson Farfán.

Liverpool: Pepe Reina; Álvaro Arbeloa, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan; Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, John Arne Riise; Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy.