Benitez banking on experience

December 11, 2007

Rafael Benitez believes his Liverpool side's experience of playing in big matches will stand them in good stead going into Tuesday night's crunch Champions League showdown with Marseille.

Only a win at the Stade Velodrome will guarantee the Reds a spot in the knockout stages of a tournament they won in 2005 and were losing finalists in last season.

With a side crammed full of established internationals who have played at the highest level for years, Benitez knows the Merseysiders will not be lacking in experience.

And the Spaniard feels that could be a vital factor in tonight's make-or-break clash in the south of France.

'We know how to play under pressure,' said Benitez.

'If you want to win trophies, you must play in finals. And for us, this is like a final.

'We have experience of these situations. It is an important game but I have been hearing the same for one or two months. We know the situation we are in.'

The other three English teams in this season's Champions League - Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United - have already qualified, leaving Liverpool to battle it out on the final round of group matches to join them in the knockout phase.

It was always going to be a mountain to climb for the Reds from the moment they were defeated 1-0 at home by Marseille in October, but big victories since over Besiktas (8-0) and Porto (4-1) mean they are still in with a shout of a top-two finish in Group A.

'It's clear we made a big mistake losing (to Marseille) at home,' Benitez said.

'It is not easy to qualify every year. We were in a very good position last year but this year we need to play really well in Marseille if we are to qualify.

'But that is football. We needed to focus on this, prepare and look to find solutions for this game.

'We have seen a lot of their games in a row, 10 games from when we played them until now, and we know a lot about their team.'

Ryan Babel should be handed a starting place by Benitez after being on the bench for the 3-1 defeat to Reading on Saturday.

The Dutchman scored two in the thrashing of Besiktas at Anfield, and he said that win and the victory over Porto has injected some confidence into the team.

'These games will definitely make us believe we can reach the level we need to,' said the winger.

'If you play for Liverpool, there is always pressure but for the boys this is just another game - but we know how important it is.'

Striker Fernando Torres has reiterated his support for the manager, claiming it would be a 'mistake' for the club to replace him.

Benitez's future remains uncertain despite an apparent thaw in his relationship with owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks following a disagreement over transfer policy.

Torres said: 'It would be a huge mistake to think about changing the manager if we don't get the win we need.

'Rafa Benitez has done so much for this club and the staff, players and fans are behind him.

'It is the most important match since I joined.'