Liverpool will have Momo Sissoko missing for today’s match with Newcastle United at Anfield – the Mali international is suspended after picking up five yellow cards over the course of the season. Didi Hamann is hoping to be available again for selection – he made a brief substitute appearance in Japan for the Reds but has continued to struggle with the injury caused by Michael Essien’s Champions League lunge.
Like all Premiership managers, Rafael Benitez has to consider how best to spread his resources over the next eight days. In defence he’s still looking for that extra centre-half to share the load on Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia, and so the pair are likely to play all four games – injury permitting. Today they’ll be up against former Reds forward Michael Owen.
Owen will be wondering what kind of reception he’ll get at Anfield today – in the main it’s likely to be a positive one, certainly before kick-off and after the match has ended. That won’t be the case for his manager though – Graeme Souness was a player Liverpool fans loved, but his decisions as manager saw the team start a rapid decline they are only now starting to recover from. Liverpool fans may have been prepared to forgive him for that, but his decision to sell his exclusive heart-operation story to the Sun newspaper will probably never be forgiven.
Souness himself seems to dislike Liverpool nowadays as much as the Reds fans dislike him. He’s not happy at still being criticised for what he sees as a small misjudgement. If he gets one victory over Christmas he wants it to be this one. His other striker, Alan Shearer, is hoping to get the one goal that gives him the record for goals at Newcastle.
Benitez is aware of the threat a side fired up by Souness and featuring two strikers on a mission poses to his side but they didn’t break the club record for clean sheets by being kind to opposition attackers. Djibril Cisse and Fernando Morientes will want to prove at the other end that Owen’s decision to try a season at Newcastle will not hurt Liverpool’s chances of success this season. With Owen’s infamous get-out clause meaning he could yet be back in a Red shirt next season, Cisse and Morientes would like to make sure it’s their names on the score sheet at the end of the game. It’s highly likely one of them will play today, alongside Peter Crouch – one of Owen’s likely team-mates in the World Cup in Germany for England.
Bolo Zenden is out for the season, Neil Mellor is getting nearer to a return to the first-team squad, but other than that Rafael Benitez has most of his squad available for selection. For Newcastle a suspension has ruled out midfielder Scott Parker, but there could be treturns to action for Carr, Babayaro, Emre, Taylor and N’Zogbia
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Warnock, Traore, Luis Garcia, Xabi Alonso, Gerrard, Hamann, Kewell, Cisse, Morientes, Crouch, Josemi, Sinama-Pongolle, Carson.
Newcastle: Given, Harper, Carr, Ramage, Babayaro, Elliott, Boumsong, Bramble, Taylor, Faye, Emre, Solano, Luque, Ameobi, Bowyer, N’Zogbia, Clark, Brittain, Shearer, Owen, Chopra.