After an exciting night in Turin on Wednesday, Liverpool must now bring themselves back down to earth and back to the reality of the Premiership.
Liverpool are fifth in the league, four points behind neighbours Everton, and are desperate to swap places with them and get that fourth Champions League place.
With only six games to go, that’s going to be tough. Everton need to slip up twice more than Everton. Three of those six games for Liverpool will be played before they meet Chelsea in the first leg of the semi-final.
The first of the three games is today at Anfield. Tottenham Hotspur arrive in Liverpool with hopes themselves of getting a Champions League place. Spurs are in seventh place, four points behind Liverpool, and will be looking for some success from the season. Spurs boss Martin Jol is trying to rally his players: “We need a better mentality. If we can achieve something now it will be a big boost because it will give us a lot of confidence. We need to be a bit lucky and we only have a minor chance.”
Liverpool’s luck this season has generally come in the form “bad” and so the Reds will also be looking to see a change of fortune. This change could be on the way at least from the injuries perspective – Xabi Alonso and Djibril Cisse made returns on wednesday and Harry Kewell is said to be a couple of weeks away from fitness again. Gerrard missed the game in Turin but is now fit to be selected again today.
Rafa Benitez has refused to blame the injury crisis for Liverpool’s inconsistencies in the league, yet it’s not been possible for him to name a settled team. “We must win against Spurs in our next league game, that is why Gerrard was not with us in Turin. We must think ahead and remember the good things we’ve done in the past and we’ll try to do that against Spurs.”
If Liverpool get three points today they’ll look to continue this against Portsmouth on Wednesday, and Crystal Palace next weekend. Two teams looking to try and ensure survival in the top flight are not going to be push-overs for Liverpool – even if neighbours Everton did manage a 4-0 win over Palace last weekend.
By the time these three games are over, Liverpool will know whether they’re still in with a chance for fourth place. Without winning all three, their chances are sure to suffer. They are only one point ahead of sixth-placed Bolton right now. Afte these next three league games they’ll be playing Chelsea for a chance to go to the final of the competition that every top flight club craves to be a part of.
Benitez is expected to stick with Dudek in goal. The luxury of selection dilemmas for Benitez has now started though elsewhere in defence. Pellegrino has been preferred to Hyypia in recent games, but Hyypia captained the side on Wednesday and alongside Jamie Carragher, ensured Liverpool kept a clean sheet. Traore and Finnan are likely to be selected as full-backs.
In midfield Benitez needs to make some decisions. Biscan played well on Wednesday, Alonso played his first 90 minutes since the turn of the year, Gerrard missed the game through injury. John Welsh is available for that position too. If both Gerrard and Alonso were 100% fit there’d be no question, but with both of them in the condition they are then Rafa needs to think.
Liverpool at home will be looking to score – and the attacking options for Benitez are much better than in recent weeks. Although Baros is unavailable as he continues his suspension, Morientes is available again today – he was cup-tied in midweek. Cisse will almost certainly start from the bench again. Le Tallec will be hoping to be considered, and could play in a midfield role.
Liverpool squad: Dudek, Finnan, Carragher, Pellegrino, Hyypia, Traore, Luis Garcia, Gerrard, Alonso, Biscan, Riise, Warnock, Cisse, Baros, Morientes, Carson, Nunez, Le Tallec, Smicer, Welsh.
Tottenham squad: Robinson, Cerny, Kelly, Gardner, King, Bunjevcevic, Dawson, Edman, Davies, Davis, Ziegler, Brown, Carrick, Defoe, Keane, Kanoute.