Benitez insists Gerrard selection was no gamble
Rafael Benitez insists he did not take an unwise gamble on Steven Gerrard's fitness in Liverpool's 2-1 Champions League defeat at home to Lyon.
The Spaniard believes too that the Reds can still reach the last 16, despite having only three points from three Group E matches so far. Lyon maintained their 100% record at the top, and Fiorentina's 4-3 victory against Debrecen tonight makes them favourites to grab the second qualification spot.
Liverpool - almost certainly needing to win their final three group games to progress - are away to Lyon in a fortnight, then travel to Budapest on November 24 before hosting Fiorentina on December 9.
They led at half-time against Lyon through Yossi Benayoun - before crumbling under pressure to concede goals to substitutes Maxime Gonalons and Cesar Delgado, in injury time. The loss of Gerrard after just 25 minutes with a recurrence of his groin injury was a savage blow, with Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson both also sidelined.
But Benitez said: "It was not a gamble to play Gerrard. He wanted to play and had trained normally for two games. He was given the all-clear by the doctor, and what happened was just bad luck. He felt something wrong in his groin, and it was wise to come off.''
Benitez will oversee a succession of scans for his injured stars before being able to start preparation for Sunday's visit of Premier League champions Manchester United. Liverpool have staged miracle survivals in the group stages of Europe before - and will need another one now.
Benitez recalled: "We have come back before - and we can do it again. We now must be ready for the next match. I have confidence that we have the quality to overcome these problems. We have to push players now, to keep working and to maintain our confidence.
"We just had too many problems before and during the game. Losing Glen Johnson before the match, and then Gerrard and Martin Kelly during the match, was just too much to contend with. It was a difficult game with all our problems, and we had done well to be leading at the break. Then we had two or three chances soon after the interval. Had we scored, it would have changed everything.''
Benitez also explained his decision to take off Benayoun and send on Andriy Voronin in the closing stages - a choice that was booed by the Kop. "The fans know Yossi is a good player, but I felt he was getting a little tired and I wanted to use some fresh legs,'' he said. "We needed to change something, to put a fresher man on - and it was a chance worth taking.''
Lyon chief Claude Puel was delighted with his side's victory, having had Brazilian defender Cris carried off in the second half with concussion. Puel said: "Cris has had scans on his head. He was unconscious, but he has improved. Despite that problem, it was an excellent performance. It was a tough match, decided by fine details.
"They put us under a lot of pressure with crosses and high balls into the box, and they took the lead. But we kept our organisation and our shape, and slowly maintained more possession. We were the better side in the second period - and we deserved the win.
"But I do not believe we have already qualified. Liverpool will have to win when they come to Lyon in a fortnight - that will be a very hard game for us, because Liverpool will be going for it and attacking.''