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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 6, 2008

Benitez expects tight finale to Arsenal trilogy

Rafael Benitez knows there is a fine line between victory and failure - but remains convinced Liverpool have what it takes to make it through to the Champions League semi-finals this week.

The Reds secured a second 1-1 draw at Arsenal in the space of four days, which severely dented the Gunners' Premier League title hopes.

Despite so many changes by both teams with perhaps one eye on Tuesday's second leg of their European tie at Anfield - Benitez made eight - there was in the end little to choose between either side.

Substitute Andriy Voronin had a superb chance to win the match for the visitors with a late volley, while at the other end Arsenal pressed continually during the closing stages.

The Reds boss is all too aware at this level that games can turn on a single incident - maybe such as when a moment of brilliance from captain Steven Gerrard set up what could yet prove to be a crucial away goal in last Wednesday night's first leg of their European tie.

'You know always that the small things can be the difference,' said the Spanish coach.

'When you play against the top sides, you know a player can change the game, or there can be a mistake in a free-kick, in a one-versus-one situation.

'At the end, the difference between the draws and the wins, or if you lose are the smaller things and the influence of the top-class players.'

Should the two sides draw 1-1 again on Tuesday night and remain unable to be separated after extra-time, then the right to play either Chelsea or Fenerbahce in the semi-finals of Europe's elite club competition would be decided on spot-kicks.

While the Liverpool manager - whose men knocked Chelsea out on penalties to reach the final last season - insists the shoot-out is a 'lottery', Benitez feels it comes down as much to keeping a cool head under pressure as it does natural talent.

'I believe sometimes it is more the heart than the quality of the players,' said the Liverpool manager. 'We will have some good players taking penalties, so I do not think we will practise too much.

'You know which players will be good when they are called from the halfway line. It is not just quality. It is important to be calm and to know what to do.

'When you talk about top-class players, with quality and experience in these situations. Sometimes they can be really good at 18, sometimes at 31 a player is not cool on penalties, so it depends on each one.

'I will not be thinking about penalties. We will be trying to use our experience during the game and not go to penalties.'

Benitez added: 'If we need to go to penalties, then they have quality and we have quality too. The penalties are really a lottery.'

Benitez handed French youngster Damien Plessis his debut at the Emirates Stadium yesterday, and left leading scorer Fernando Torres on the bench along with Gerrard.

Recalled England striker Peter Crouch did not disappoint, as the giant frontman proved a real handful before eventually opening the scoring with a well-worked goal three minutes before the break.

Ironically, though, it was the beanpole striker who was then caught the wrong side of Nicklas Bendtner when he equalised for Arsenal in the second half.

Nevertheless, it was still a fine performance by the 27-year-old. Liverpool have offered Crouch a new deal, but as yet have had no response.

'Peter Crouch is a very good professional. That is the reason why we offered him a new contract,' Benitez said. 'I have confidence he will sign. I know the player wants to.'

The Liverpool manager observed: 'At the moment, we are playing with only one striker, but we can play with two. It is not a problem.

'If you are in a team which wins trophies you know you can be an important part of that squad. I know Peter is happy here and that he wants to play. But that is football.

'We have offered the contract and we need to wait.'