Wednesday 29 March 2017

Yossi shines bright in Red shadow play

Rory Smith in Bucharest

FROM the spotlight to the shadows. Exactly a year to the day since Yossi Benayoun headed past Iker Casillas to send a shockwave through the Bernabeu and reaffirm Rafael Benitez's side's reputation as Europe's most dangerous guests, Liverpool find the intense glare of the Champions League replaced by the dull afterglow of the Europa League.

The journey from Madrid, the most recent in a long line of proud nights in Anfield's litany of such occasions, to Bucharest, where Benitez's team face Unirea Urziceni with a narrow 1-0 lead from last week's first leg, represents Liverpool's fall from grace, their descent into the twilight zone.

The talk emanating from Anfield, of course, remains bullish, despite the sharp contrast between past glories and present travails, inescapable on such a maudlin anniversary.

"This is our opportunity to win silverware," the Liverpool manager said.

"The players know you cannot change things now so they have to focus on this competition." It is a message echoed by Benayoun, the hero of Madrid.

"There is a big difference between Madrid and Bucharest," he said. "But you cannot be too disappointed. That's football."

Benayoun has less reason to be disappointed with his contribution to Liverpool's year of purgatory than many of his team-mates. His trajectory since the Bernabeu could not differ more wildly to that of his team. Before Madrid, he existed in Liverpool's shadows, little more than a squad player, a loose cannon to be unleashed against wilting defences.

Since returning from Madrid, he has almost hogged the spotlight. When the Israeli is missing, as he has been for more than two months combined this season, only Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are more conspicuous by their absence.

"That game changed my Liverpool career," he says. "The goal gave me a lot of confidence and since then I have played a lot better.

"It was definitely the defining moment of my career. I had played good games and bad games before it, but really after that goal I played better and better, playing more games, scoring more goals. It was a special moment."

A repeat of a moment of such ecstasy is unlikely, regardless of whether Liverpool progress tonight. There are no highlights in a life lived in the shadows. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Unirea (4-5-1, r-l) -- Arlauskis; Maftei, Galamaz, Mehmedovic, Bordeanu; Frunza, Apostol, Paraschiv, Fernandes, Onofras; Bilasco.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1, r-l) -- Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Babel, Aquilani, Benayoun; Kuyt.

Unirea v Liverpool,

Live, ESPN, 6.0

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