Rafael Benítez has called upon Liverpool FC's fans to rally the team through tough times as they prepare to play host to Serie A leaders FC Internazionale Milano.
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Rafael Benítez has called upon Liverpool FC's supporters to rally the team through these tough times as they prepare to meet FC Internazionale Milano in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round at Anfield on Tuesday.
Europe represents the only realistic hope of Liverpool – 19 points off the pace in fifth place in the Premier League – winning silverware this season after they were beaten 2-1 in the FA Cup by lower-league Barnsley FC on Saturday. However, manager Benítez draws strength from the club's famous anthem as he seeks to turn around a disappointing campaign, saying: "We know they [the fans] must be behind the team because they always are. When you have a legend that says You'll Never Walk Alone, that means something.
"The players have confidence and know that this is now another competition, so we will try to win this game and I am sure we can do it," the Spaniard added. "We must win because we have to change what's happening. Inter don't have too many weaknesses so it will be difficult to find them, but we have some ideas and we will try to use the quality we have in our own squad." A late substitute against Barnsley, captain Steven Gerrard will return along with rested goalkeeper Pepe Reina while Fernando Torres is expected to shake off a hamstring strain. Fellow striker Andriy Voronin (knee) and defender Daniel Agger (metatarsal) remain out, however.
Italian champions Inter defeated AS Livorno Calcio 2-0 on Saturday to stretch their unbeaten run to 29 games in all competitions since losing 1-0 to Fenerbahçe SK on Matchday 1 – and their lead atop Serie A to eleven points. Coach Roberto Mancini said: "Even though we are winning on the home front, it's still not enough. We want to improve, and to succeed in the Champions League is a huge goal for absolutely everyone. We are aware there is still a long way to go but that's certainly our aim. This stadium [Anfield] is part of the history of football, so it would be absolutely fantastic to come here and win."
Mancini added: "I suppose it is true to say that Liverpool are not playing particularly well in the league at the moment, but that means they have to give everything in the Champions League, so that might actually make it more dangerous for us. We are going to have to be very attentive and very careful. We have a great deal of respect for Liverpool and we know the next couple of games are going to be very tough. To play well here, in this kind of match and in this kind of stadium ... if we were to win, it would be a truly prestigious victory."
Key striker Zlatan Ibrahimović and Nicolás Burdisso are available again after suspension – the defender having served a six-match ban – although midfielder César is suspended and Luis Antonio Jiménez injured. In midfield, Patrick Vieira lacks match fitness but could play along with Luís Figo. The Portuguese made his comeback as a substitute against Livorno after fracturing his fibula in November.