Benítez confident Liverpool will reach Europa final

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
rafael benitez Liverpool boss emphasises the part the Anfield crowd can play in the second leg of the semi-final against Atletico Madrid

rafael benitez

Rafael Benítez is confident Liverpool will overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Atletico Madrid at Anfield next week to reach the UEFA Europa League final.

The Liverpool boss emphasised the part the Anfield crowd can play in helping his side reach the final in Hamburg on May 12.

“The second leg is at Anfield and I am confident,” said Benítez after Thursday’s defeat. “Anfield is massive and with the fans behind us we can beat anyone.”

The reliance on the twelfth man is a common theme in the Benítez era as all too often his team have revealed a soft underbelly away from home.

Atletico Madrid had edged to a slender lead at the Vicente Calderón Stadium after Diego Forlan renewed his old rivalry against the Premier League club. Forlan, despite mistiming his original header, managed to poke an early strike past Pepe Reina at the second attempt, Jamie Carragher’s desperate lunge unable to prevent the goal.

But Benítez’s side reacted well and probed the Atletico  rearguard. Skipper Steven Gerrard had the opportunity to level matters just ten minutes later following a typical burst past the last line of defence, but on his weaker left foot the England midfielder blasted his effort into the side netting.

In midfield the English club looked assured and enjoyed spells of dominance. Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva snuffed out the majority of threatening Atletico counter attacks. In attack, however, Liverpool were limp and bereft of creativity.

David N’Gog showed an accomplished first touch but lacked the strength and experience that the sidelined Fernando Torres would have inevitably brought to the starting line-up. The young French striker was replaced by Ryan Babel in the second half with Dirk Kuyt shuffled to centre forward.

Frustration began to build as the away side pieced together promising moves but were guilty of failing to release the ball at the appropriate time, Babel and Kuyt the two most culpable here.

Atletico could, and should, have extended their lead. Simao Sabrosa forced a world-class save from Reina while Forlan fumbled an opportunity to test the Spanish goalkeeper. Yet the Atletico boss, Quique Flores, appeared to be content with the narrow advantage which they will now aim to defend at Anfield, boosted by the return of Sergio Agüero.

“It was an intense game, very tiring,” said Flores. “A second goal would have completed the match but we can’t complain.”

“One-nil is a good result, the dressing room is optimistic but we know the game will be decided in the second leg.”

Benítez, meanwhile, singled out Liverpool’s experience of similar situations as a potential saving grace. “We’ve been in the situation before and we’ve found we can win, so hopefully it will be the same again,” he said.

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