With only one loss in its last 16 European home games, Lille is
confident ahead of its clash with five-time European champion
Lying fifth in the French league and vying for a Champions
League berth next season, Lille players won’t be tagged as
underdogs against a Liverpool team experiencing a season to forget
at home that has been plagued with inconsistency.
The Reds will travel to France for the first leg of their
last 16 Europa League match following a disappointing 1-0 loss to
Wigan in the Premier League that clearly irritated manager Rafa
“Sometimes how you play depends on the other teams, on
quality, match fitness and things like this,” Benitez said after
the team’s ninth loss in the league that left the Merseyside team
in sixth place in the standings. “But you cannot afford not to
fight from the first minute until the last because it is really
important for the club and all of us.”
Lille advanced to the third round of the competition at the
expense of Fenerbahce courtesy of a late strike from Adil Rami that
gave them a 3-2 aggregate win. Lille coach Rudi Garcia said
afterward that the prospect of meeting the Reds in the next round
really inspired his players.
“Liverpool was a real motivator for us, it pushed us on,”
said Garcia, who knows Benitez well after spending time with the
Spaniard as a trainee coach in Valencia, Spain.
“European competition is all about big emotion. Now we’ll
have the pleasure of traveling to Anfield and we can’t wait to get
Hit by flu earlier this week, central defender Rami has
recovered and is expected to play while midfielder Ludovic Obraniak
is back from a hip injury. But Garcia will be missing several key
players including Ivory Coast midfielder Gervinho (knee) and
defender Mathieu Debuchy (ribs).
Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun may also miss the match
because of an ankle injury but central defender Daniel Agger should
be able to play after remaining on the bench against Wigan because
he was sick.
Liverpool dropped into the Europa League after being
eliminated from the Champions League, notably losing at home to
Olympique Lyon in the group stages.
“It was a surprise the other day (against Wigan), but
hopefully it was just a blip and we will see the real Liverpool on
Thursday,” Benitez said.
The two clubs have never met in a competitive match but Lille
is used to English clubs, having played Liverpool’s bitter rivals
Manchester United six times.
About 1,000 Liverpool fans are expected at Lille’s stadium
where 400 police officers and 300 stewards will be deployed.