11 December 2007

The Zend of the road

The Sun 11 Dec 07

BOLO ZENDEN warned former club Liverpool last night: My dream is to dump you out of the Champions League.
Marseille’s Dutch ace reckons the atmosphere inside the intimidating Stade Velodrome tonight will be simply too hot for Rafa Benitez’s boys to handle.
And with Liverpool almost certainly needing a win to survive in the tournament, the danger signals are all too clear.
Zenden, who arrived in France in July after a miserable two years at Anfield, said: “This game will be like a final and people have us as favourites because we are at home.
“I have played for both clubs but my dream now is the elimination of Liverpool.
“The key is in the mentality of the players. Marseille have a clear plan. We will stop them playing and keep control of the match.
“Any Liverpool player is dangerous. Torres, Gerrard and Crouch are great players. But our defence is ready for the challenge.
“The game will be full of tension and the atmosphere will be amazing. That will help us, though, for me, this match will be a real tactical battle.
“I certainly bet Benitez will not attack from the start.”
While Marseilles Airport hardly ranks among the ‘Welcome to Hell’ arrival halls of European football, Benitez knows the French city will become his own personal Hades if it all goes horribly wrong here.
Benitez will send out his Liverpool side on a revenge mission which cannot and must not go wrong for so many reasons.
Defeat and they are out of the Champions League. A draw will mean they can only go through if Besiktas win at Porto.
For the manager, after his public spats and the subsequent uneasiest of truces with the Reds’ American owners, it is not stretching the point to suggest his own future may well be on the line too.
A first Premier League defeat of the season at Reading on Saturday, where Benitez’s tactics were again called into question, merely heightens the tension of the trip.
So it comes down to victory at all costs for Rafa and his side.
At least if fighting talk counts for anything, last season’s runners-up will not repeat any of the slips that have blighted their current campaign.
Two months ago, a staggering 1-0 Anfield loss to Marseille — a result made even worse by another defeat in Istanbul to Besiktas — left the club’s Euro dreams on a knife-edge.
A Champions League record 8-0 return win over the Turks and a four-goal caning of Porto have put them back in the hunt.
And this time Benitez is convinced there will be no clangers dropped, as the French have lost that vital element of surprise.
Back in October, Eric Gerets had just replaced Albert Emon as boss and the victory at Anfield was his first in charge of Marseille.
Benitez feels the lack of video evidence of how the French would play under their new coach was a crucial factor in the upset.
He said: “It’s clear we are in a much better situation now than in the first game. We are playing much better and have more confidence, so things will be different. I don’t think the Reading defeat will affect us.
“Before the last game, Marseille had changed their manager and not had a match for 10 days. They had all that time to prepare. Everybody was saying it would be easy but we didn’t think that.
“Now we have more videos and can see the way they play and the tactics they use. We will have a better idea of what they might do.”
Benitez has listened to speculation about his future for the past month.
SunSport revealed yesterday how Jurgen Klinsmann is the latest name in the frame to replace him should the Reds’ American co- owners decide on a change.
Tom Hicks and George Gillett meet the Spaniard next week for talks that will become a little more than clear-the-air should Liverpool be staring at a place in the UEFA Cup — or, indeed, total Euro oblivion.
Yet the Kop chief is convinced his side’s Champions League know-how — they have reached two of the last three finals — will be good enough to see them through.
He added: “It’s going to be another of those occasions where the players have to dig deep. But we have enough experience. We know we have to win. But a lot of people aren’t considering that if Besiktas beat Porto we need only a draw to go through.
“Of course, we are thinking only about going to Marseille to win. We can’t think about approaching the game in any other way.
“We know the atmosphere will be difficult and hostile and Marseille aren’t doing well in their league. But this is a different competition. They also weren’t doing very well when they played at Anfield and beat us.
“So we must be ready for a tough game. It is like a final and we have experience of seven finals since I have been here. We have confidence we can win.”

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