Cana: Liverpool not the same without Gerrard
Marseille skipper Lorik Cana has claimed Liverpool are nothing like as good a side when Steven Gerrard is not playing.
The 25 year-old Albanian arrived on Merseyside with the French side aware that Gerrard was close to a return to action following a torn muscle in tomorrow's Champions League Group D clash at Anfield.
Considering the damage Gerrard has done to Marseille in the last two matches between the sides - both in the south of France - Cana would have been forgiven a wry smile at the thought of the England man storming back into action, hoping to secure the win that will take Liverpool into the last 16.
He said: "Maybe it would help us if he was not playing. But as a professional you always want to play against the very best to see whether you measure up. And he is one of the best in his position in the world.''
Marseille shocked Liverpool in this competition with a 1-0 win at Anfield 13 months ago.
Since then Gerrard has inspired a 4-0 victory in France, scoring the first, and then adding two stunning goals when Liverpool won 2-1 in Marseille in September.
Cana has no doubt of Gerrard's influence.
He said: "Steven Gerrard is the emblem of the club and the talisman of the side. Liverpool without Gerrard are not the same as Liverpool with him in their side.
"He scored two at our place, and was outstanding. We are not sure whether he will be playing and of course you want to play against the very best, to test yourself against someone like that.
"But if he plays it will harder for us, he is certainly one of the best in the world in his position.
"But we do not believe Liverpool are as good without him as they are with him.''
Mathieu Valbuena, the midfielder who scored Marseille's winner in Liverpool last season, has surprisingly travelled with the squad despite suffering a knee injury that was expected to rule him out for a month.
Manager Erik Gerets said: "He is with us as much to continue his treatment as anything else. He will have to improve drastically to be involved, but we will see.''
Gerets does not expect to make many, if any, changes from the side that drew 2-2 with Lille at the weekend, coming back from two down to grab an injury-time equaliser through former Liverpool midfielder Bolo Zenden.
Gerets said: "We made some mistakes in that game, but there is no point in being critical of defenders when they make small errors. I have confidence in them and do not expect to make many changes.''
The Belgian coach, who celebrated his first game in charge last term with that win at Anfield, believes his team were unfortunate to lose to Liverpool at home this season.
He said: "We were caught by two Gerrard goals at home, but after the break we were the better side.
"We deserved a draw because we played the better football in the second period. Maybe they slackened off a bit after being on top in the first half, but we played well enough to equalise.
"I expect Liverpool to be careful against us. They know we won here last season and they know also that we must win to stay in the competition. They will be unsure how we will play.
"They are still favourites to win the game and we will only take something if they are not as good as they should be at their best.
"You do not know how things will work out, they came to our ground last season and were special. But we had been special in the first game in Liverpool when we beat them.
"We have two ways of playing this game. The first option is to go for broke, attack them and risk everything.
"The second option is be more careful, let them come on to us and soak up the pressure and then hit them on the break with space to exploit behind their defence. We will see.''