Liverpool limp in to Lyon with no defence for under-fire manager Rafa

04 November 2009 08:22
Never mind the fitness of Fernando Torres. It's the fitness of his defenders that will be troubling Rafa Benitez most here in Lyon on Wednesday evening.

He has to assemble a back four capable of containing a side who score at least two goals in every Champions League game they contest at their Stade de Gerland home.

Greek tragedy: Sotirios Kyrgiakos is likely to be deputising in the centre of defence again for Liverpoool

The wealthy punters who pay to travel with Liverpool rejoiced at the sight of their superb Spanish striker boarding their plane at Liverpool's John Lennon airport yesterday morning. Imminent hernia operation or not, Torres was there and determined, seemingly, to play through the pain for his beleaguered manager.

But then came the head count. Then came the realisation that Glen Johnson had not made it and, that although Daniel Agger had, he appeared to be in no fit state to play a game of such vast importance. Agger sat down only for take-off and landing, his sore back forcing him to stay on his feet for the rest of the 80-minute flight. The Danish defender almost came a cropper between the plane and passport control, slipping on a wet surface and only just remaining upright.

Benitez really is in an awful mess. A fifth Barclays Premier League defeat of the season at Fulham, Liverpool's sixth in seven games in all competitions, owed as much to an injury list now running into double figures as it did the two red cards. But the back four that the Spaniard deployed at Craven Cottage were acquired for just £2.5million and will not look much better this evening.

Main man: Fernando Torres seems determined to play against Lyon, but Benitez's real problems are in defence

Lyon have already beaten Liverpool at Anfield and they will relish the opportunity to have another crack at them tonight, especially when they see a team so damaged by injuries they might not even have to worry about Jamie Carragher at centre half. As things stand, Liverpool's vice-captain will probably have to occupy that right back role he so loathes.

In his place will stand a centre half who struggled even to make an impact at Rangers - the distinctly unimpressive Sotirios Kyrgiakos - alongside Agger, assuming he makes it.

If Agger's back seizes up overnight, Benitez will have to turn to Daniel Ayala, the stuff of nightmares when Liverpool need to end a run of five consecutive away defeats and a further indictment of the Spaniard's transfer policy when it comes to acquiring players who are supposed to provide adequate support to his first-team superstars. There are plenty of examples when Benitez has bought well, but plenty more that do not reflect quite so well on him.

With Steven Gerrard among those left behind and Xabi Alonso long since gone, Benitez's midfield will also be looking alarmingly lightweight when Javier Mascherano will be partnered by the mediocre Lucas. Dirk Kuyt and Yyossi Benayoun are among Liverpool's more consistent performers but they could struggle if the service provided to them is not of the necessary quality.

Given what's at stake this evening, the need for inspiration and invention might just persuade Benitez to gamble with Alberto Aquilani and deploy him behind Torres. It would be a big call when he only made his first appearance for the club last week when he came on as a substitute against Arsenal and was denied a chance to appear again at Fulham because of a virus.

But the £20million signing from Roma might just get the nod when the alternatives are so unattractive. Andriy Voronin is not a Liverpool player and there is little evidence to suggest David Ngog or Ryan Babel are either.

Benitez defended his position here in Lyon on Tuesday night, insisting that any club would struggle to cope with '11 injuries' and insisting that his transfer policy did bear scrutiny.

'The eve of such an important game is not the time to go into that,' he said. 'But any team would have problems if they lost three of four of their best players and some of our other players have not yet settled down. At the same time, though, we already have a good team and a good squad.'

Benitez looked like a broken man at the final whistle on Saturday but that steely, smiling facade was back here.

He dismissed talk of this being 'a pivotal game', of the enormous pressure he is under despite the recent defeat of Manchester United. He didn't even seem to mind the fact that Christian Purslow, his managing director, chose to attend the press conference.

He did, however, acknowledge the support he continues to receive from the majority of Liverpool supporters. 'Our fans are clever and they know where this club was when I arrived here and where it is now,' he said.

Inspiration, he said, would also come in the form of the game in Marseille two years ago when Liverpool had to win to progress beyond the first round. In Marseille, though, they did not have the kind of problems they have to contend with now. For a start they had a defence.

 MARTIN SAMUEL: Rafa Benitez has to be a Lyon tamerFergie: Forget it Rafa and Arsene, the title race is between me and CarloTorres flies out as Rafa risks throwing injured Liverpool star into Lyons denJohn Arne Riise: Return to Liverpool? I'd rather stay at fourth-bottom RomaLIVERPOOL FC

Source: Daily_Mail