How Will Injured Liverpool Fare in Lyon?
When the Champions League draw was made back in August, Liverpool’s away tie to Lyon looked as if it would be the toughest test in a tricky, yet potentially winnable Group E.
Languishing in third place, with a dismal three points from the first three games, Liverpool’s toughest test will be their most critical if they are to maintain any hopes of advancing past the Group Stages, let alone harbouring any remote hopes of winning it.
Pages and pages have been written on the terrible run of form that the Reds are currently on. But Lyon themselves also come into this fixture following a poor month, which has seen them lose their unbeaten start to the season.
In October, Lyon have lost to Lens and been then trounced by Nice, both of whom are in the bottom half of Ligue 1. Despite suffering these two defeats in the space of four games, Lyon are still second and only two points beyond current leaders Bordeaux and do come into the game following an away win against St. Etienne, whereas Liverpool's previous game was the disastrous trip to Fulham.
In the Champions League, however, Lyon sit pretty at the top of Group E with maximum points from the first three games and will go into their home tie against Rafa’s men full of confidence that they can do the double over their more illustrious visitors.
For the Reds, anything less than a win could well spell the end of any further involvement in European football’s most prestigious club tournament, and could well resign them to the embarrassing drop into the Europa League.
With Steven Gerrard not even travelling to Lyon, Benitez goes into this game without his leader and driving force. Once again Liverpool must prevail in a "must win" game without one half of their dynamic duo.
How fit the other half is, is also debatable, with Fernando Torres being pulled off just after the hour mark last time out, as he was not deemed to be fit enough to complete the full 90 minutes against Fulham.
Liverpool could also be stretched in defence with Martin Skrtel also not making the squad and Daniel Agger, although on the plane to France, facing a late fitness test to see if his back has recovered enough for him to take the place alongside Jamie Carragher.
Furthermore, the Reds will be without the services of Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelia who were also not included in the 19-man squad making the trip to Lyon.
Liverpool fans will be hoping that Alberto Aquilani has shaken on the virus that has plagued him and prevented him from playing any part in the shambolic display at Craven Cottage last Saturday.
The fact that this is a tie that Liverpool must win, should tempt Rafa away from his standard European away-match strategy and cause him to pick an attacking lineup. An adventurous and maybe unexpected move could be to play Babel and Kuyt on the wings, with Mascherano and Lucas anchoring the midfield, and Benayoun behind Torres.
Depending on his recovery we may well see Aquilani play a more significant part in proceedings than to date. But in what looks like a tight match, if Liverpool are not in a winning position after the hour mark, how long will Torres be left on the field of play?
I, along with most fans, would like to see him stay on as long as we need him, as this may well also be the vital game in Liverpool’s season from a financial point of view. Failure to qualify for the knock-out stages would be a significant blow in the already depleted monetary reserves at Anfield.
In the circumstances, a win in Lyon will be a great result, but will not see the Reds out of the European woods, far from it. However, with so much at stake, Liverpool will be Liverpool and should pull themselves to victory.
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