Robbie Keane is expected to get a fresh chance to prove he can enhance Liverpool's chances of silverware this season, with Rafa Benitez set to ring the changes for Tuesday's UEFA Champions League meeting with PSV Eindhoven. The five-time European champions have already clinched their place in the knockout phase, but need to better Atletico Madrid's result in Marseille if they are to top the group and, in theory at least, secure a more favourable second-stage draw.
Benitez however is more concerned with conserving energy levels in his squad, in the build-up to the gruelling end-of-year domestic programme in England, which he believes could make or break Liverpool's chances of a first English league title since 1990. That will almost certainly mean a return for Keane after the Republic of Ireland international, who has scored only four times since his close-season move from Tottenham Hotspur, was left on the bench for Saturday's 3-1 win at Blackburn Rovers.
Main striker Fernando Torres is currently sidelined by a hamstring problem, while fellow forward Dirk Kuyt misses the trip to his homeland with a less serious variation of the same injury. The Reds also have doubts over the fitness of Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano, who suffered a dead leg at Ewood Park.
But Spain winger Albert Riera and Italian defender Andrea Dossena, who were alongside Keane on the bench on Saturday, should figure against opponents that Liverpool beat 3-1 when they visited Anfield in October. "It is difficult to say now who will play in Eindhoven, but it is clear that we will be making several changes," Benitez revealed.
The Reds manager confirmed that Brazilian midfielder Lucas, whose performances have come under critical scrutiny of late, will be involved, and he pleaded with fans to be patient with the 21-year-old. "People have criticised him recently but he has been working so hard, he is the kind of player with a great character who will become very important for us," Benitez said.
"There is still a lot on the match itself. It is still important for PSV and Marseille to get points to get into the UEFA Cup. But it will be difficult for Marseille against Atletico because their opponents are very good on the counter-attack and dangerous. And PSV also need to win, so they will make it very difficult for us. They have ability, pace and they are playing at home."
Benitez does not believe that finishing first or second in the group makes much difference in terms of the quality of second-round opposition, but he would like the advantage that group winners get of playing the second leg of their last-16 tie at home. "We cannot play an English side in the last 16, so that reduces the options," he said.
"Looking at the groups we could finish top and still end up playing against Juventus or Real Madrid, it is also possible to face Lyon or Bayern Munich, so it is very difficult to decide who you would rather play next. The best thing about winning the group is that you play the second leg of the next round at Anfield, which is very important for us."
PSV warmed up for Tuesday's match by coming back from two goals down to beat Groningen 4-2 in the Dutch Eredivisie on Saturday.