IF Gordon Brown is discovering a week is a long time in politics, then a year in football must seem like an eternity for Liverpool and Yossi Benayoun.

Exactly 12 months ago today, the Israeli scored one of the most notable goals in the club’s illustrious European history by heading the winner in their 1-0 Champions League triumph at Real Madrid.

The Spaniards were then thrashed 4-0 in the return leg to reignite a thrilling but ultimately futile Premier League title pursuit for Rafael Benitez’s side.

How times change. With dreams of another championship challenge long since dashed and having suffered the ignominy of being dumped out of the Champions League at the group stage, Liverpool have been left scrapping with the Continent’s second tier for their final chance of silverware.

Instead of stepping out in front of 85,000 at the Bernabeu, Benitez’s men will tonight travel to the more intimate Steaua Stadium aiming to defend a 1-0 first-leg lead against Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League.

Matters are also very much different for Benayoun. Still regarded as a squad player ahead of the trip to the Bernabeu, his goal proved a turning point in his Anfield career with the Israeli becoming an integral part of Benitez’s attacking plans.

Benayoun’s creativity and guile was sorely lacking during his recent six-week spell on the sidelines with a rib problem, his impact immediate when marking his return with a lively cameo from the bench at Manchester City on Sunday.

And the 29-year-old acknowledges that header eight minutes from time in Madrid as a pivotal strike.

„For me it was a special moment,” says Benayoun. „Firstly to score a goal with my head in the Bernabeu was special because it is not the strongest part of my game. Personally, I think that game changed my Liverpool career. The goal gave me a lot of confidence and I think since then I have played a lot better for Liverpool.

„It was definitely the defining moment of my career. I had played good games and bad games before this, but really after this goal I started playing better and better. I played more games, scored more goals and have done better since then.”

Benayoun adds: „There is obviously a contrast between the Real Madrid game and the game in Bucharest now, but that is football. You cannot be too disappointed.

„We have been an important team, a big team in the Champions League in recent seasons. Hopefully, we will finish in the top four in the Premier League and then be back in it next season.”

Like Liverpool, Unirea slipped out of the Champions League group stage this season despite an unbeaten home record that included a 1-0 win over Seville.

And despite the obvious disappointment of being nudged off the top table of European football, Benayoun insists Liverpool are determined to ensure a silver lining to an otherwise hugely underwhelming campaign.

„For us it is still a very important game,” he says. „Of course we wanted to be in the Champions League group stages but now we have to concentrate on the league and the Europa League.

„We won 1-0 last week and we have the advantage and we have to finish things off now. We are playing for a title which would be important. It gives us the chance to win and give us something positive for this season.”

With their own Tineretului stadium holding only 7,000 spectators, Unirea are playing their European home games 40 miles away at Steaua Bucharest’s 27,500-capacity venue, where their highest attendance of the group stage was the 15,000 they attracted for the visit of Rangers.

Read the article on Liverpool Daily Post

Liverpool FC: Yossi Benayoun hoping to roll back the year

IF Gordon Brown is discovering a week is a long time in politics, then a year in football must seem like an eternity for Liverpool and Yossi Benayoun.

Exactly 12 months ago today, the Israeli scored one of the most notable goals in the club’s illustrious European history by heading the winner in their 1-0 Champions League triumph at Real Madrid.

The Spaniards were then thrashed 4-0 in the return leg to reignite a thrilling but ultimately futile Premier League title pursuit for Rafael Benitez’s side.

How times change. With dreams of another championship challenge long since dashed and having suffered the ignominy of being dumped out of the Champions League at the group stage, Liverpool have been left scrapping with the Continent’s second tier for their final chance of silverware.

Instead of stepping out in front of 85,000 at the Bernabeu, Benitez’s men will tonight travel to the more intimate Steaua Stadium aiming to defend a 1-0 first-leg lead against Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League.

Matters are also very much different for Benayoun. Still regarded as a squad player ahead of the trip to the Bernabeu, his goal proved a turning point in his Anfield career with the Israeli becoming an integral part of Benitez’s attacking plans.

Benayoun’s creativity and guile was sorely lacking during his recent six-week spell on the sidelines with a rib problem, his impact immediate when marking his return with a lively cameo from the bench at Manchester City on Sunday.

And the 29-year-old acknowledges that header eight minutes from time in Madrid as a pivotal strike.

„For me it was a special moment,” says Benayoun. „Firstly to score a goal with my head in the Bernabeu was special because it is not the strongest part of my game. Personally, I think that game changed my Liverpool career. The goal gave me a lot of confidence and I think since then I have played a lot better for Liverpool.

„It was definitely the defining moment of my career. I had played good games and bad games before this, but really after this goal I started playing better and better. I played more games, scored more goals and have done better since then.”

Benayoun adds: „There is obviously a contrast between the Real Madrid game and the game in Bucharest now, but that is football. You cannot be too disappointed.

„We have been an important team, a big team in the Champions League in recent seasons. Hopefully, we will finish in the top four in the Premier League and then be back in it next season.”

Like Liverpool, Unirea slipped out of the Champions League group stage this season despite an unbeaten home record that included a 1-0 win over Seville.

And despite the obvious disappointment of being nudged off the top table of European football, Benayoun insists Liverpool are determined to ensure a silver lining to an otherwise hugely underwhelming campaign.

„For us it is still a very important game,” he says. „Of course we wanted to be in the Champions League group stages but now we have to concentrate on the league and the Europa League.

„We won 1-0 last week and we have the advantage and we have to finish things off now. We are playing for a title which would be important. It gives us the chance to win and give us something positive for this season.”

With their own Tineretului stadium holding only 7,000 spectators, Unirea are playing their European home games 40 miles away at Steaua Bucharest’s 27,500-capacity venue, where their highest attendance of the group stage was the 15,000 they attracted for the visit of Rangers.

Read the article on Liverpool Daily Post

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