Former Liverpool midfielder Didi Hamann comes back “home” to Anfield tomorrow at a time when we could do with him being back in our squad. An injury crisis has hit Liverpool, mainly in the midfield department, and Didi – himself just back from injury – would have been a certain starter tomorrow had he remained a Red in the summer.
Momo Sissoko is out for three months after his shoulder injury sustained in the recent league cup match against Birmingham, and his fellow central midfielder Xabi Alonso has now joined him. Xabi will be out for around 12 days with a knee injury.
The absence of those two first-choice central midfielders means Steven Gerrard has to move infield to his preferred position, as does Bolo Zenden. Both of the two left-sided midfielders signed in the summer by Rafael Benítez are also out though – Mark Gonzalez is out for three weeks after tearing his hamstring on Wednesday joining Fabio Aurelio. The right-winger signed in the summer, Jermaine Pennant has to go through a late fitness test after also being stretchered off on Wednesday.
Harry Kewell is still out with his long-term problems and the chance to move John Arne Riise further forward isn’t there because Stephen Warnock has just undergone groin surgery and won’t be playing for at least another two weeks.
With all this going on, it’s no surprise that the squad for tomorrow includes some of the youngsters – Guthrie, Hammill and Peltier – and Rafa may be forced to use one or two of them. Craig Bellamy is expected to be in the sixteen despite having to attend his court case this week.
As for Didi, he says his Anfield return may just bring a lump to his throat. He said: “It will be emotional. I went to the Galatasaray match earlier this season when I said hello to a few people, but that's the only time I've been back. A part of me feels like I still belong there. I was there a long time and had some wonderful memories. Part of me is still Liverpool and I hope I get a nice reception.”
If Didi doesn’t get a good reception there’s a lot of supporters who should consider finding another team to support, the German midfielder’s contribution at Anfield deserves a hero’s welcome. Didi says he’s surprised how badly his former side have been in the first half of the season: “I'm surprised at how they've started, because I really thought they would be genuine title contenders this season. I didn't think they'd be so many points behind the top two, which is really down to their away record, although they’ve had their five or six toughest away trips already.”
He says that he can see the Reds pulling back up the table before the season ends: “I still think they will finish top three. We put together a run of nine or 10 wins last season and they are capable of doing it again.”
Hamann will be glad that Liverpool are in the middle of this injury crisis, in the hope it makes the job of dealing with the skipper a little easier: “If Stevie's on his game he's hard to stop. With his pace, passing and shooting he can take any defence apart. We have to defend as a team and help each other out, because if you let yourself get one against one with him you're in trouble.”
And can “The Kaiser” give his team mates any tips on how to stop Gerrard? “I can't really,” he says, “There's nothing I can really tell them they don't already know, except that it will be tough!”
Kick-off tomorrow is a rare 3pm. The referee will be Rob Styles, who awarded Liverpool a penalty in the season’s opener against Sheffield United in August. He booked Sissoko and the now-departed Kromkamp that day, the only Reds league game he’s officiated on this season. Tomorrow will be the first City league game he’s taken charge of this term.