11 March, 2008

Snatch 22

How’s this for a dilemma then: either play for your club against Inter Milan at the San Siro in the last 16 of the Champions League, or witness the birth of your first child. Thankfully it’s a predicament few of us will ever have to face, but for ace Liverpool midfielder and kickette favourite Xabi Alonso, the choice was obvious.

Raphael Benitez seemed far from happy yesterday about the situation, as Alonso understandably chose to remain in the UK alongside soon-to-be-MILF wife Nagore as she goes into hospital today. The Spanish international is obviously an important player as the Reds look to defend their 2 – 0 advantage from the first leg, but central midfield is not an area where Benitez is short of talent. Argentinian star Javier Mascherano is fit to play again so will easily slide into Alonso’s position, but still Benitez was a little irked (thankfully not merked though):

“He (Alonso) wanted to come here if everything was ok but we cannot wait until we have more information so we made the decision. I can't wait for one player until the end when you don't know what's going on, I have to use my squad.”

Despite leading by two goals going into the tie, Benitez confirmed his opposite number Roberto Mancini's suspicions that Liverpool will not simply go for a goalless draw. Encouragingly, Benitez is very attack minded, even with the tie poised on such a knife-point, and knows that one goal away in the San Siro will be enough to leave Inter needing four themselves to progress:

“We know we can't defend for a long time against a very good team. We need to attack and score a goal. I have a lot of confidence that we will go forward and my idea is to prepare the team to win. (Inter are) a great team and for us it's important not to concede.”

Following an embarrassing defeat by Barnsley several weeks ago now, the Scousers seem to have finally remembered how to play football again, and in the last week have stroked in a majestic set of goals against West Ham and Newcastle, with match-winners Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard playing some simply breath-taking football. Inter meanwhile are not in good form despite still being top of Serie A, with a 2 – 0 victory over Reggina their only win in their last 5 domestic games.

Not to jinx everything, but in 1965 the two clubs found themselves playing each other in the European Cup semi-finals, and having lost the first leg 3 – 1 at Anfield, Inter came back to win 3 – 0 in the San Siro to win the tie. They then eventually won the competition, so Mancini will be praying history repeats itself first tonight, and then at the Luzhniki Stadium in May…