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Peter Crouch can make big impression

Peter Crouch can make big impression

By Tim Rich in Toulouse
Last Updated: 1:27am BST 15/08/2007

Between them Liverpool and Toulouse have won the European Cup seven times, although sadly for those expecting a fierce contest for the right to enter the Champions League, the French trophies have all come in rugby.

Rugby in this corner of south-west France is treated with a reverence that the Welsh valleys would recognise but Champions League qualifiers come as something of a surprise. It is half a century since they won their only trophy, the French FA Cup, which might explain the sense of disbelief in Toulouse that they have come this far. When they qualified for the tournament after Rennes, their principal rivals for the third and final qualifying place, conceded an equaliser with 20 seconds of the season remaining, Toulouse celebrated by throwing the mayor into the team bath. He broke an ankle.

For Liverpool, reaching this far is not about celebration but keeping their balance. Winston Churchill once said of John Jellicoe, who commanded the Empire's fleet during the Great War, that "he was the only man on either side that could lose the war in an afternoon". It could be said of Rafael Benitez that he is the only manager in the Premier League who could destroy his season by Aug 28.

That Liverpool won their opening fixture at Villa Park ensured that the Liverpool manager could go into what, financially, is their most important single fixture of the season knowing that even if they lose to Chelsea on Sunday, they would not concede an early, insurmountable lead that has crippled Liverpool in each of his previous three seasons.

And for the only time since arriving on Merseyside, Benitez appears happy with not just his first XI but with his squad. It is inconceivable that for last year's Champions League qualifier against Maccabi Haifa he would have left at home someone like Jermaine Pennant, who was probably Liverpool's outstanding performer in May's European Cup final with AC Milan.

"We have very good players in the squad now, so it is not like I am bringing in players who would not be good enough," said Benitez, implying there were times in the past when he could not make that statement.

"There are no problems with Peter Crouch or Javier Mascherano [both of whom did not make the starting line-up at Villa Park]. They are professionals and they understand that."

When asked whether their agents, and particularly Crouch's representatives, might start to leak expressions of their client's dissatisfaction with his rotation policy, Benitez insisted sharply: "Those agents need to be professional and create work for their players, not for themselves."

Anfield politics is one reason that almost demands Crouch's selection. But there are also tactics. There is every danger that even in temperatures that may reach 36C this afternoon Toulouse might freeze and none more so than their two young centre-halves facing a man who stands 6ft 7 in his socks.

Stat bunker

History This is Toulouse's first foray into the Champions League.

Trends Toulouse opened the season with a 3-1 defeat away at Valenciennes but recovered to beat French champions Lyon 1-0 at home last weekend.

Betting Peter Crouch was Liverpool's leading scorer in the competition last season with seven goals, four more than any other player.

Team details Toulouse: Douchez; Ebondo, Cetto, Mathieu, Jonsson; Dieuze, Emana, Batlles; Gignac, Cesar, Elmander. Liverpool (probable 4-4-1-1): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa; Benayoun, Alonso, Sissoko, Riise; Gerrard; Crouch. Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).


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