With qualification at stake, Olympique de Marseille coach Erik Gerets says Liverpool FC will be stepping into a lions' den at the Stade Vélodrome on Tuesday.
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Liverpool FC will be stepping into a lions' den at the Stade Vélodrome on Tuesday, according to Olympique de Marseille coach Erik Gerets. Victory for either side would guarantee qualification, and Gerets is adamant that his will be the team celebrating at the final whistle.
The hosts also know that a draw will suffice unless Group A basement club Beşiktaş JK can win at FC Porto, but the Belgian tactician does not expect his charges to hold back. "We won't set out looking for a draw," said Gerets. "Our preparations have been normal but, from the first second on Tuesday, the players will know they are in a special game, more intense than in the league. It's the match the fans have been waiting for and there'll be adrenalin aplenty on the pitch. We won't freeze, we'll be like lions."
The Mediterranean outfit certainly did not freeze on Merseyside in October, as Mathieu Valbuena gave Gerets a stunning 1-0 victory in his first match in charge. Since then, they have managed just one point from three European outings, yet their coach sees enough reasons to believe they will progress. "We have already proved that we have the ability to defeat Liverpool," he stated. "One of my colleagues said we don't have a chance on paper, but the match won't be played on paper. Even though they're slight favourites, we're at home and we're unbeaten in our last five league games."
Marseille extended that Ligue 1 run with a 2-0 success over AS Monaco FC on Saturday, which lifted them to 13th in the standings. Influential playmaker Samir Nasri missed out with an ankle injury, although there is a slight chance he may return to replace Karim Ziani. "We'll make a decision after training," explained Gerets, who admitted he is relishing another meeting with the 2005 winners: "There's pressure but it's the right kind of pressure, the pressure you hope for as a coach."
Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez has come under pressure of his own since Saturday's 3-1 loss at Reading FC ended his side's unbeaten Premier League record, not least because he withdrew key men Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres to keep them fresh for Marseille. "Right now, the Champions League is the most important competition for us," said the Spaniard. "We were really disappointed to lose the Reading game, but we're only thinking about this one and finding the right solutions."
'It's a final'
Daniel Agger and Xabi Alonso will not figure among those solutions as they are not yet back to full fitness, while Andriy Voronin and Mohamed Sissoko have been left in England. Torres has recovered from an ankle knock, on the other hand, and will lead the charge for goals – although a draw would suit Liverpool if Beşiktaş prevail in Portugal. "We made a lot of mistakes when we last faced Marseille, but we know more about them and their coach now," continued Benitez. "If you want to win trophies then you have to win finals, and for us this is a final."