Reds on the ropes as Lyon head to Anfield

LIVERPOOL - After three consecutive defeats Liverpool's season is deflating before their eyes and only a convincing Champions League win at home to Olympique Lyon on Tuesday looks like lifting the gloom.

Saturday's 1-0 loss at Sunderland illustrated exactly how much Liverpool rely on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, both of whom missed the game through injury, and the old adage that Lady Luck often abandons those who most need her.

Sunderland's winner, scored by Darren Bent, took a meaty deflection off of a beach ball that had bounced into the area, prompting howls of outrage from Liverpool's defenders and gales of laughter from fans up and down the country.

Far from blaming the errant beach ball, manager Rafa Benitez admitted his side were simply not good enough as they barely mustered an attack worth the name.

Defender Jamie Carragher has played down the talk of crisis on Merseyside but with four defeats in nine league matches, some feel Liverpool's title challenge is as good as over.

After stumbling to a 2-0 defeat in their last Champions League Group E outing against Fiorentina, even the consolation of a long run in Europe looks in jeopardy and Lyon will visit Anfield aiming for a potential knockout blow.

Worringly for Benitez his side have failed to score in those three defeats and, apart from a decent spell in the 2-0 loss at Chelsea a fortnight ago, have rarely looked like doing so.

GROIN INJURIES

Benitez must hope that Torres and Gerrard both shake off the groin injuries that sidelined them at Sunderland - without them they looked powderpuff.

But an optimistic Carragher suggested good results against Lyon and at home to Manchester United next weekend could turn the season around.

"Now is not the time to talk about the title. We are looking to the next game," he said.

"We now have the Champions League tie against Lyon which will be in front of our own supporters at Anfield. It's a chance to restore some confidence before we take on Manchester United next Sunday.

"We will stick together and work hard on the training ground to put things right. We know we've got a good team, good players and a good manager so we've got to have belief in ourselves and keep going."

Lyon arrive on Merseyside with their own problems having lost 2-0 at home to Sochaux on Saturday, their first league defeat of the season.

However, they are the pace-setters in the group after wins against Fiorentina and Debrecen and know that victory at Anfield would make them near certainties for the knockout round as well as leaving Liverpool facing elimination.

Coach Claude Puel said Liverpool remained a huge test for his side despite their domestic woes.

"Liverpool are the best you can find in Europe with Barcelona and Manchester United," Puel told reporters. "Even when they are going through a difficult period, you certainly can't write them off."

The seven-times French champions have defensive worries with Jean-Alain Boumsong, Mathieu Bodmer and Brazilian Cleber Anderson all sidelined which means France midfielder Jeremy Toulalan should play as central defender.

Liverpool will recall Javier Mascherano to their midfield after he started on the bench at Sunderland following his late return from international duty with Argentina.

Probable line-ups:

Liverpool: 25-Pepe Reina; 2-Glen Johnson, 23-Jamie Carragher, 5-Daniel Agger, 12-Fabio Aurelio; 15-Yossi Benayoun, 8-Steven Gerrard, 20-Javier Mascherano, 11-Albert Riera; 18-Dirk Kuyt, 9-Fernando Torres.

Lyon: 1-Hugo Lloris; 13-Anthony Reveillere, 3-Cris, 28-Jeremy Toulalan, 20-Aly Cissokho; 17-Jean Makoun, 6-Kim Kallstrom; 14-Sidney Govou, 8-Miralem Pjanic, 7-Michel Bastos; 9-Lisandro Lopez.