x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Kennedy points to Rafa as key

The pressure could not be more intense as Rafa Benitez prepares for two games which could decide the fate of Liverpool's season.

The pressure could not be more intense as Rafa Benitez prepares for two games which could decide the fate of Liverpool's season. Tonight they will attempt to finish off Real Madrid to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League. They then visit the Premier League leaders Manchester United on Saturday knowing only victory will keep their title dream alive. Alan Kennedy, the former Reds defender who won five league titles and two European Cups during his seven years at Anfield, knows it has been a difficult campaign for Benitez, particularly with his unresolved contract issue proving an unwanted distraction.

In five years under Benitez, Liverpool have won the Champions League, finished runners-up and lost a thrilling semi-final to Chelsea last year. "Rafa has got them playing brilliantly in Europe: organised and effective, and he knows how to play the opposition so well," said Kennedy. "Over the years they have got results no one expected, including the first leg in Madrid two weeks' ago, and a lot of that is down to Rafa."

But as Benitez and his players are all too aware, only half the job is done against Real following Yossi Benayoun's winner at the Bernabeu. "I would not write Real Madrid off, but they will have to play as well as they can to get a result at Anfield: people like Raul have to be at their best," said Kennedy. "Liverpool worked so hard in that first leg and in Europe, teams fear them because of their record. Five times they have won it; that says Liverpool are not a team to be messed about. It used to give us an advantage, an edge, and it seems to be the same even now. I really feel they can win the cup again."

Albert Riera is banned for Liverpool, while Benayoun is a doubt with a hamstring injury. Pepe and Wesley Sneijder, who did not feature for Real in Sunday's draw against city rivals Atletico Madrid because of suspension, return to the squad, as do Miguel Torres and Javier Saviola. @Email:akhan@thenational.ae