With two league games left this season Liverpool are still in with a remote chance of second place. If Chelsea beat Manchester United early this afternoon then Liverpool’s game at home to Aston Villa becomes more important for the Reds. United have to lose two of their last three games for Liverpool to have any chance of second, but a Chelsea win would make that much more likely to happen.
If the last two games are important then the Liverpool players are more likely to be driven towards making mistakes that could lead to a suspension. Luis Garcia’s minor altercation with Hayden Mullins at Upton Park during the week saw him sent off and given a three-match ban. The FA were asked to look again at their decision but upheld the ban. They aren’t making many good decisions of late, if the England manager fiasco is anything to go by.
This led to a warning to his players yesterday from Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez. Losing your head will lose you a place in the cup final: “Luis Garcia cannot play in the final. Maybe that is a good thing for the rest of the players. It is good for them to see you cannot lose control before important games. It is a good lesson for Luis Garcia and we can learn from this.”
Luis has a reputation as a big-game player, scoring important goals in important games. Few games are bigger or more important than the FA Cup final, and Rafa says he’ll be missed: “He will be a big loss. He can score goals on the big occasion and we all know his quality. He can change the game.”
Up front Rafa has a dilemma over who to pick. Robbie Fowler could be making his last appearance at Anfield if he isn’t offered a new deal in the summer. So could Djibril Cisse and Fernando Morientes if Rafa has finally run out of patience and plans to sell. Cisse scored twice during the week but Fowler has a brilliant record against Villa – he’s played them 12 times and scored 12 goals. Rafa isn’t thinking of the individual players’ feelings though: “The most important thing is the team, not individuals.”
Rafa also emphasised that despite the excitement of the cup final there was still a job to do in the league, because until second place is out of reach they have to try and keep going for it: “That is what we will try to do. We have to think about the League matches, not the final. Football is only enjoyable when you’re winning. I have seen Villa a few times and they can be dangerous. It’ll be a tough game.”
Before Liverpool can get second place though Manchester United have to drop points, and they are still in with an outside chance of taking the title off Chelsea. Mourinho’s side need one point from three games to win the league, so today’s meeting of the two clubs could see the title decided. If that’s the case then Liverpool move closer to that chance of second spot, and according to Reds defender Jamie Carragher there’s every chance Chelsea will be doing Liverpool a good turn, something Mourinho wouldn’t be pleased with: “Manchester United have got a big game against Chelsea on Saturday. Both teams will be wanting to turn each other over but with Chelsea needing a point for the title hopefully they can win and do us a favour.”
If that match goes the way the Reds need it to then it’s down to Liverpool to get the three points at home: “If we can then capitalise by defeating Aston Villa it might get interesting. United have two home games to come after that so they’ll remain in pole position and it’s going to be difficult to overhaul them but all we can do is look after ourselves.”
Aston Villa’s manager David O’Leary is also looking for a point – the amount Villa need mathematically to avoid being relegated. He’s not happy with how the season has gone at Villa Park: “We shouldn’t still need a point to stay up but we still need to be looking at other results and that’s life. I was looking to get at least a point against Manchester City then we wouldn’t have to worry about anything.”
O’Leary says the quality in depth of Liverpool’s squad is excellent: “I went to see Liverpool at West Ham but it was such a waste of time because they left eight players out. They could field two world class teams – that’s why they’re up there challenging.”
Gerrard should make a return to the side after being rested in midweek, along with Crouch. Harry Kewell’s injury is not as bad as first feared. Rafa is unlikely to let sentiment get in the way of the important stuff so it’s not expected that Dudek will be saying farewell from the pitch today before his expected summer move away from Anfield.