Reds and Rovers both looking for points

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez would like nothing more on his birthday today than seeing the Reds close the gap on second-placed Manchester United. Chelsea’s win yesterday meant it was finally impossible mathematically for the Reds to win the league, but second place is certainly within reach. Liverpool are six points behind United at the moment, and it’s still a real outside chance for them to be overtaken, but nobody expected Sunderland to take points off United on Friday.

Today’s opponents have their own ambitions though, and Mark Hughes will want his Blackburn side to prove they deserve to be in the top six by beating the Reds, and in turn press their claim even more for a European place. Even Champions League football is a possibility for the Lancashire side.

The game this afternoon has a few little side-shows to it. Djibril Cisse will be returning to play at the ground where his career nearly ended if he’s picked. It was early last season that the Frenchman broke his leg at Ewood Park. Blackburn striker Craig Bellamy has again been linked with a move to Anfield, and press reports today have revisited reports from when Bellamy signed for Rovers that his contract includes a £6million get-out clause should an offer come in from a Champions League side. Mark Hughes may be making himself a lot of friends in Blackburn since taking over from Graeme Souness, but he’s less likely to make any friends at Anfield thanks to his past with Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea. Brad Friedel keeps goal for Blackburn against his old club, and Dominic Matteo is in the Blackburn squad hoping to face his former club.

For Rafa the aim remains to finish as high as possible in the table,
even if improving on their current third place is going to be
difficult: “If we could finish second that would be fantastic but it
will not be easy. We will have to win every game and we will try to do
it. We have another tough game at Blackburn who are looking to finish
in the top four, and I’m not surprised how well they have done this
season as they are a strong team with balance”. Hughes may not be
popular at Anfield, but Rafa remembers the Welshman from a different
perspective: “I remember Mark Hughes playing in Spain for Barcelona and
he was a good player and aggressive, and he is a good manager. He has
some good players and Bellamy is scoring a lot of goals but the most
important thing for us is to win and play well if possible.”

Rafa’s comments on Bellamy may be a coincidence, but whether he chooses
to pursue the player as the strong rumours suggest remains to be seen.
Xabi Alonso meanwhile has been enthusing about existing striker Robbie
Fowler, who’s still waiting to hear where his future lies. Xabi says:
“Robbie is a great player. There has been a lot of talk about whether
he will be with us next season but he is doing his job very well. As a
finisher, he is an absolute killer inside the penalty area. What sets
him apart is the way he takes advantage of half chances when the ball
is loose. He is lethal when that happens.” It’s not just on the pitch
where Robbie is making an impression though: “Robbie has created an
excellent atmosphere in the dressing room. He’s a very opinionated man
and he’s very, very funny. Robbie definitely represents the great sense
of humour that Liverpudlians are famous for!”
Blackburn are one of the clubs that have expressed an interest in
taking Fowler on if he can’t get a new deal at the club. Alonso says of
today’s match: “This is a hard game for Liverpool. Blackburn’s style is
very aggressive, so we know they will be hounding us and trying to win
the ball back every time we have it. The best way for us to cope will
be to move the ball around quickly by playing fast, passing football.
That way we might be able to combat their strength and powerful
pressing game.”

Arguably the most infamous player on Blackburn’s books is another
Welshman, Robbie Savage. Xabi is more than well aware of the player who
seems to regularly find controversy following him: “The man that
typifies Blackburn’s style best is Robbie Savage. He plays each match
as if it’s his last and that desire is a very important thing for his

As for second place, Xabi says that Liverpool have played as well as
they can recently, but are relying on others to slip up: “I don’t think
we can be too disappointed with our form. We have done our best but
Manchester United have been in good form, so it is very difficult for
us to catch them. All I can say is that we’ll try and overtake them. To
do that we need to win every match.”