The last time Liverpool played in France, they displayed the fighting performance that Rafa Benitez demanded. Only a late equaliser from Lisandro Lopez, the Lyon striker, denied them a deserved victory in November that would probably have kept them in the Champions League. On Monday, Benitez made a withering attack on his players following the 1-0 loss to Wigan in the Premier League, when they did not display that sort of attitude or aptitude. A response is required when Liverpool take on France's Lille in the last 16 first leg of the Europa League.
"It is very clear this is an opportunity for us to do things right, try to get a good result and be ready for the next game," said Benitez. "Sometimes you have these games but the problem we have is that we don't have too much room for mistakes, so we have to perform now. The players know we have to improve in some specific areas. You cannot afford not to fight from the first minute until the last because it is really important for the club and all of us.
"In the last five to 10 games, we were showing real character and you could see everyone was working really hard, helping each other and working together to try and get results. It was a surprise the other day, but hopefully it was just a blip and we will see the real Liverpool on Thursday." But who are the real Liverpool? Even Benitez might find that difficult to answer. Their inconsistency has been a major factor in why they are in the Europa League and struggling to claim the fourth place domestically to get them back into the Champions League.
Brilliant one game, baffling the next. Steven Gerrard might have escaped punishment for an alleged gesture to the referee against Wigan, but it showed the frustration and pressure he and his teammates have felt in a campaign of under-achievement. Benitez cannot afford to show a weakness himself at the moment and he added: "Outside the pitch we have to keep focused and on the pitch we have to show we're ready to win and show we have the desire. Hopefully we'll have the reaction and show on the pitch we are a strong side."
The return of Glen Johnson at right-back could not come soon enough. He was one of their consistent performers in the early part of the season, especially with his forays forward. For all the willingness of Javier Mascherano and even Jamie Carragher, they are no substitute for the England international in this position. Lille may not have many big names, but in Eden Hazard, their attacking midfielder, they possess one of Europe's brightest prospects. Benitez has even called on his former club Valencia for some help as the Spanish side were held 1-1 in Lille during the group stage.
"We know they're a dangerous team with some ability. We will see a team with great motivation because they're playing Liverpool," said the Spaniard. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org