Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool manager, yesterday conceded that the pressure is on him as his side head into two games that could define their season. They host Lille at Anfield tonight knowing anything other than victory will see them eliminated from the Europa League and no longer able to win any silverware. Then they head to fierce rivals Manchester United on Sunday, where a defeat would leave their hopes of finishing fourth in the Premier League - and sealing a Champions League place for next season - as good as over.
First, however, the focus is on the French team Lille, who hold a 1-0 advantage in the round-of-16 tie thanks to Eden Hazard's goal in last week's first leg. "We have to win. We will try to win because we want to progress in the Europa League and after that we will try to beat Manchester United," said Benitez, whose position as manager has been questioned by some supporters as the trophy cabinet has been untroubled since 2006 when it housed the FA Cup.
Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher have voiced concerns about the strength of the squad, while captain Steven Gerrard had a very public courtship with Chelsea in 2005. Pepe Reina, the goalkeeper, highlighted the importance of tonight's match. "It's the last option we have to lift a trophy this season so that's why it's massive for us," he said. "We have always had belief and we still have a really good hope in the Europa League."
Liverpool's Premier League title challenge never got off the ground, but Reina said there will be no lack of motivation at Old Trafford come Sunday. "We can't compare to them because they are far away. All that matters now is to look at ourselves and perform better," he said. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org