Brendan Rodgers will be relying on the ‘warrior spirit’ of striker Luis Suarez as Liverpool look to overturn a two-goal deficit against Russian outfit Zenit St Petersburg in the second leg of their Europa League clash at Anfield on Thursday.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference for the game, the Reds’ boss claimed that his Uruguayan forward was a ‘critical’ player for the Merseysiders and would be ‘very, very important’ for the hosts on the night.
Suarez, who has scored 22 goals in all competitions so far this term, spurned some presentable opportunities in the opening leg of the tie, but Rodgers hailed the mentality of the former Ajax captain.
Rodgers said: “[Suarez]
“He didn’t want to come off (against Swansea), he wanted to stay on and probably get more goals. I’ve obviously got to think of the bigger picture. I wanted him to get a round of applause from the crowd because he deserved it – he worked his socks off.”
The Liverpool manager will need Suarez to be at the top of his game if his side are to stand a chance of progressing, especially if the Reds go behind on the night, which would mean they would need to score at least four goals to reach the last 16.
Liverpool will have to compete without the services of the increasingly influential Daniel Sturridge, who is cup-tied, while the ‘tough-minded’ Italian summer signing Fabio Borini is set to undergo an operation on a dislocated shoulder this weekend, which will keep him out for at least six weeks. Rodgers has no other senior strikers at his disposal for the fixture, leaving Suarez carrying a great burden.
But the former Swansea boss remains confident of Liverpool’s chances. Speaking to reporters in the trophy room at Anfield, he said: “If you look at the game last week, it was a game that was near on perfect up until 69 minutes and then two lapses of concentration obviously cost us. It has made our job much harder than we wanted it to be, but I have a quiet confidence that we can go about our work well.
“Since that game, we’ve talked about the areas that we needed to improve in and they went into the Swansea game and took those items that we mentioned in terms of being defensively solid and creating chances.
“If we take that into the game then it gives us a great chance. The important factor isn’t an early goal – the important factor is the first goal. If we can get the first goal then that can set us up.”
He added: “They (Zenit) know that it will be a really difficult game coming here. They’ve got to come here now and defend a two goal lead and we’re confident that we can score the goals required. This season we’ve already seen that we can score goals.”
Rodgers also spoke about the impact that the Anfield crowd could have in helping the Reds to stage a comeback. Perhaps the most striking example of this in recent history came in the game against Olympiakos in 2004, where Liverpool, with the help of the ‘twelfth man’, sealed a 3-1 win to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League. They then went on to win the competition.
Rodgers said: “The legend of Liverpool is based on these nights. If you walk around Melwood and you see the various quotes and comments from top players in the game and some of the best managers in the world – it’s not the game that’s talked about, it’s the supporters – and it’s such nights that really has made Liverpool what it is.
“The supporters will be vital for us on the night, as they always are in every game, but in particular tonight we’ll really need them and I’m sure we’ll get the backing that can hopefully get us to a victory.”
Slovakian centre-back Martin Skrtel is highly unlikely to feature against his former club due to a knee injury and his probable absence would hand Jamie Carragher the chance to start in his sixth consecutive game.
Brazilian attacking midfielder Coutinho, who scored in Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Swansea, will also miss out as he is cup-tied. Meanwhile, winger Ousamma Assaidi will be in the squad following his return from the Africa Cup of Nations.
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