Liverpool today will have an opportunity to regain the faith of many disbelievers and to exonerate Rafa Benitez from the incredible amount of pressure and blame that has fallen on his shoulders this season, deservedly so for the Merseyside club’s poor performances in the FA Cup and Premier League.
In the competition where Rafa Benitez continues to perform best, a win or a draw today for Liverpool against Inter Milan at the San Siro (3:30pm ET, ESPN2) will be a momentous achievement against one of, if not the best, sides in Europe. Forget Milan’s lackluster performance against Liverpool in the first leg. Today’s Inter side will be a totally different opponent, hungry for the kill and ready to punish the Reds.
For Liverpool to come out with a win or a draw at the San Siro will erase many of the memories of the poor performances by Liverpool this season. That said, if Liverpool do get knocked out today, the memories of the underachievements in the FA Cup and Premier League will stay fresh in the minds of the critics and most Liverpool fans.
That’s how tight the difference is between success and failure. Win on aggregate today and Benitez’s name will go into the Liverpool folklore once again. This time for defeating the mighty Inter Milan, something that a powerful Liverpool side was unable to do in the 1965 European Cup semi-final. Lose and the talk will be about when Benitez will be sacked by the American owners.
The challenge for Liverpool today will be finding someone other than Fernando Torres to score goals. Inter Milan will undoubtedly be marking Torres extremely tightly and not allowing him much space, which will free up room for another striker or attacking midfielder to penetrate the Inter back four. One goal should be enough to push Liverpool through to the next round.
Today’s match will be a mountain to climb for Liverpool. Inter’s Javier Zanetti has already warned Liverpool that they will be punished if the Reds sit back and try to hold on for a nil-nil draw. However, I don’t see Liverpool coming out and attacking Inter, which will leave too many gaps at the back. I see Benitez playing their defensive-minded football which has worked so well for them in the past. If Inter scores, they can change tactics. So, for Liverpool, it’ll be crucial that Inter doesn’t score an early goal.
Whatever happens, I’m really looking forward to a match that will hopefully go down as a classic European encounter.