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By ESPN Staff

Benitez defends record on zonal marking

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and goalkeeper Jose Reina, anhas defended the side's heavily criticised zonal marking system and insisted the Reds can rescue their Champions League dream.

The Merseysiders' 14-month, 32-game unbeaten home record in all competitions was shattered by Chelsea's shock 3-1 quarter-final first-leg victory at Anfield.

Now Liverpool must produce a recovery of Istanbul proportions on Tuesday in the second leg at Stamford Bridge to stay in the competition.

It is very clear that manager Rafael Benitez is not about to change a system that has served him well throughout his managerial career.

Benitez said: "When you see man-marking you see many goals conceded every week. We have not conceded too many goals this season from set-pieces or over the years, the system works and has been very effective for us.

"It is not the system. It is the mistakes that were made by players. If you analyse Chelsea, they have Drogba, Terry, Alex, Ballack, Essien, Ivanovic - it is very difficult to stop all of them at set-pieces.

"They are all very tall, and if you make a mistake you are punished. This system has worked very well - just look at how many goals we conceded from set plays in my time, it is as good as if not better than most teams.

"But what was wrong was that players were not aware of what was going on around them. If you allow a player to run free like that, it is very hard to control all the zones, that was the big mistake.''

Reina maintains that zonal marking at set-pieces was not the cause of their downfall, despite the two goals conceded to Branislav Ivanovic from corners.

He said: "It is always the same when we concede goals from free-kicks - people start talking about man-marking and zonal.

"But we have done it for five years and, although I don't have the statistics, I know we are one of the teams that conceded fewest from set-pieces over that time.''

Reina maintains, however, that the position is not irretrievable.

He said: "It's going to be much tougher to win the trophy now, we have to go there and win 3-1 or 3-0. But we can go to any stadium and win.

"Of course the 4-1 win at Old Trafford gives us hope, it shows us what we can do at any stadium. We won like that at Old Trafford, why not at Stamford Bridge?

"It has to be a perfect performance. We have to have a great day and they must have one of their worst.''

He added: "Maybe it is 85% in Chelsea's favour now, and just 15% to us, we know it will be hard. We must give Chelsea credit because they played very well. But we did not play very well, we did not dominate the situation.

"We had trouble in defence and they were in better shape. Some days your opponents play better than you, that is what we must address. Chelsea did not surprise me, they are an excellent team and we let them control the game.

"We started well but then did not have any control in the rest of the half.''

Liverpool suffered their biggest Champions League home defeat and Reina admitted they had been second best after Fernando Torres gifted them the perfect start with early goal.

"We just could not control them at all. It is a bad situation now, losing 3-1 at home is always very difficult to recover from, but we know we can do it,'' he said.

"It will not bother Chelsea that they have John Terry suspended for the next game. They have a phenomenal squad and have plenty of players who can step in for him.

"We are Liverpool, whoever plays will have to be brilliant for the team. That is why we have such a good squad, we know how to recover and we know what is needed when we step into the side.''

Benitez still has faith in his team and insists that should they score the first goal at Stamford Bridge next week, memories of the 2005 final - when they came from 3-0 down at half-time to defeat AC Milan on penalties - will come flooding back.

He said: "After the game we talked about concentrating first on the league in our next game before we think about Chelsea. We have been playing well, we have confidence, we will get things right for the next match.

"Chelsea have quality, they are physically strong with very good players. They played well and if they continue to perform at the level they showed at Anfield, the second leg will be very difficult.

"We need to score the first goal in London, just like in Istanbul when we concentrated on just getting one goal back and see what happens. Chelsea had confidence - clearly for them the Champions League is a massive competition now.

"You could see they were really determined, every challenge was very strong and maybe they think it is their year for the Champions League. But we have to believe that anything can happen.''

Liverpool defender Fabio Aurelio insists his side can maintain their Premier League title challenge, despite their Champions League mauling at the hands of Chelsea.

"I believe the team is capable of responding now after such a defeat,'' he insists. "We have to show our strength now in the league on Saturday; we know this is a very important part of the season and we must get ourselves back on track with a win against Blackburn.

"We have to get our minds right straightaway. But we have the character to keep fighting, to show our confidence. Losing to Chelsea was a big disappointment. But we must show that Liverpool are a great team, and we can make things better.''

The key is that the Reds respond in the right way - and Aurelio is confident they will.

"The players in the dressing room afterwards were obviously not happy, especially after the way we started the game,'' he added. "We must do better, especially after Chelsea achieved such a good advantage for the second leg. We have to believe we can change things around.

"But first we need to win on Saturday - and we have to play like we have done before the Champions League game. We must attack from the start and play at a tempo to take control.

"In the league now every game is a 'final'; it is important that we fight to the end.''

Victory over Blackburn is a must.

"We are at home and must take the initiative, especially because we know we are facing a very tough team who are fighting against relegation,'' Aurelio reasons.

"We have to believe. We have to get the right result - and if we can produce a better performance on Saturday, it will give us confidence going into the second-leg.''

The 29 year-old concedes a setback like last night's can be felt long and hard - but is convince that will not be the case with Liverpool.

"Losing big matches can have a psychological effect, so we have to show our quality,'' he explains. "The Champions League is not finished yet, and we have to show we are not beaten yet by producing the right result against Blackburn.

"We must get back to the form we have shown recently. We must remember how well we have been playing against very good teams like Real Madrid and Manchester United.

"We have to repeat that against Chelsea - we must fight to the very end.''

As for last night's hammering, Aurelio believes the outcome could easily have been more favourable.

"It was close in the first half, but in the second period Chelsea controlled the game and were more effective,'' he conceded. "We needed to score again to give us a better chance in the second leg - and that meant we were taking risks, coming forward and losing possession.

"But we have shown this season that we can win away games, that we can turn around matches and ties that it looks like we are losing or have lost. We made too many mistakes, so we know everyone can do better - and that must be the case in the second game.''


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