- Atletico Madrid - Europa League - football - Liverpool - Valencia FC
Liverpool coach Benitez feeling the pressure ahead of key Benfica clash
English giants Liverpool face a challenging quarter final match with Portuguese league leaders Benfica in the Europa League tonight. Elsewhere, Valencia are set to take on Atletico Madrid, in an all Spanish clash.
AFP - Rafael Benitez's tenure at Liverpool has lost a lot of its sheen in the past couple of seasons but the Spaniard could do his chances of remaining in the post a power of good by landing the Europa League this season.
The three-time winners of the old UEFA Cup - the last time in 2001 - would have preferred to have still been in the Champions League but Benitez will take anything out of another season that promised much but has delivered little.
Benitez takes his side into a challenging quarter-final first leg clash with Portuguese side Benfica this week.
He has sour memories of the last time the two sides crossed swords in European competition as Benfica brought a premature end to the defence of their Champions League title in 2006.
However, Benitez, who turns 50 on April 16, comes into the match on the back of a 3-0 victory over Sunderland which keeps them in the hunt for the coveted fourth spot and a place in the Champions League next term.
The Spaniard, though, is focused on getting a good result from Portugal and finishing off the job in Liverpool with the tantalising possibility he could face former club Valencia in the semi-finals should they win the all-Spanish clash with Atletico Madrid, the former club of Liverpool's star striker Fernando Torres.
Benitez, who guided Valencia to the 2004 UEFA Cup trophy, is not taking Benfica for granted.
"We know they are a good team and, of course, we have played them before in the Champions League," he said.
"They are a massive club with a lot of support from their fans and it will be a tough game.
"They are top of the table and playing really well at the moment. I know a number of their players well - Pablo Aimar (who played under him at Valencia), Javier Saviola, Javi Garcia - so we know they have a lot of quality."
Benfica, unlike Liverpool, have had a successful domestic campaign and are six points clear of their championship with just six matches remaining and with players such as Argentinian duo Aimar and Saviola they possess a team that, if on song, can test the best in Europe.
Rui Costa, Benfica's sporting director and a member of Portugal's golden generation as a player, acknowledged that their league form counts for nothing in such a tie though he has taken heart over their easy victories over Liverpool's city rivals Everton in the group stage.
"We were always going to be drawn against a difficult team," said the 38-year-old Champions League winning midfielder, who won 94 caps alongside such fellow golden era team-mates as Luis Figo and Paulo Sousa.
There are neither easy nor impossible opponents at this stage. We got Liverpool and I hope it will be a great match."
Liverpool's English rivals Fulham pulled off the result of the previous round with victory over Juventus and now face German champions VfL Wolfsburg who the 'Cottagers' manager Roy Hodgson respects enormously.
"German champions and Bundesliga sides can prove a handful historically," said the 62-year-old, who took Inter Milan to the 1997 UEFA Cup final.
"They are solid defensively and Wolfsburg are also pretty useful up front. So the Juventus match is for me a great result but it is in the past and we have to deal with a different challenge," he added.
Atletico and Valencia's clash should be a cracker with the latter side desperate to avenge a 4-1 humbling in the league earlier in the season.
Atletico - who have recovered somewhat from a poor start to their league campaign but still trail third-placed Valencia by 16 points - will be without two key players in former Arsenal wing Jose Antonio Reyes and Juan Valera, who both suffered injuries in last Sunday's 3-2 derby defeat by Real Madrid.
The other quarter-final pitches unfashionable Belgian side Standard Liege against Hamburg.