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Last Updated: Monday, 18 February 2008, 14:28 GMT
Alan Hansen's column
Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez will not necessarily have to win the Champions League to keep his job but he has to ensure his side triumph in their last-16 tie with Inter Milan to alleviate the pressure he is under.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez
It has come to the stage where something - a performance or a result - is needed to lift everyone and that could come on Tuesday against Inter

He might not get sacked even if his squad is beaten by Inter but, if they are knocked out of Europe, then that puts pressure on everybody - the owners, the manager and the players.

What you would have then is Liverpool supporters turning up en masse until the end of the season with their team having nothing to play for - and that is a frightening prospect.

Their Premier League title hopes are gone, the FA Cup went on Saturday and the Champions League is all Liverpool have to play for.

You could argue that they are still chasing fourth place in the league but that is not what Liverpool should be about. This season has been a major disappointment.

What went wrong for them against Barnsley on Saturday can be traced back to the start of the campaign.

In September they walloped Derby 6-0 then went to Portsmouth for their next game, made five changes and drew 0-0.

The Liverpool philosophy has always been to hammer home when you have an impetus and Liverpool did not do that. They have suffered ever since.

There has obviously been too much rotation in selection and there is a lot of caution when they play at Anfield too.

They have lost confidence at home in the last six to eight weeks, even though the crowd have been great, and things have gone a bit flat.

Against Barnsley, Liverpool went 1-0 up but they did not roll over the top of them and they have not looked like doing that against anyone since the start of the year.


Benitez is a cautious manager. That is an observation not a criticism because most foreign bosses, including England coach Fabio Capello, have that element about them.

But Liverpool fans have always been used to seeing their team hem in the opposition and batter them. Now the style is more cautious and I think they have suffered because of it.

I still do not think the team has gone backwards though. They are better now than they were last year and it does not matter if they finish more points behind the eventual champions this year.

While there has been an improvement, however, it has not been dramatic enough to see them challenge for the title.

It used to be that they could rely only on Steven Gerrard to deliver, now you have got Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

But they still do not have enough players of real quality to back up those two.

It has always been the case that to win championships you need to be able to replace quality with quality. Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea can all do it but Liverpool cannot. It is as simple as that.

How long can Benitez survive without delivering the title? Well, a lot of managers survive without doing that but he has to show he is getting closer.

Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres
It used to be that they could rely only on Steven Gerrard to deliver, now you have got Gerrard and Fernando Torres

He has got that great track record in the Champions League but obviously it is the Premier League that everyone wants to win and I think the fans have stuck with him because they can see he is going through purgatory trying to put things right.

It has still come to the stage, though, where something - a performance or a result - is needed to lift everyone and that could come on Tuesday in the first leg of their encounter with Inter.

It is a tough tie - Inter are running away with Serie A in Italy - but I would not be surprised if Liverpool reach the quarter-finals.

When they became champions of Europe in 2005, that team was well below the level you would expect from Liverpool and they beat Juventus and Chelsea to get to the final. In 2007, they beat Barcelona and Chelsea.

The atmosphere at Anfield on those four occasions exceeded anything that was there when I played and, whatever people might say, you just do not get anything like it at other grounds.

That will raise the players to a different level. We have already seen it happen and one thing is for sure, it will be one heck of a game.

  • Alan Hansen was talking to Chris Bevan

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