Liverpool’s attempts at getting into fourth place in the league continue at Fratton Park tomorrow. An exciting game and an excellent performance against Tottenham at Anfield on Saturday only brought Liverpool a point, and they now know it’s out of their hands where they finish in the league ultimately.
What Liverpool must do is pick up all fifteen points available to them. Even then they are hoping for slip-ups from Everton and Bolton, three points and one point ahead respectively. Reds boss Rafa Benitez today said: "We need to reduce the gap. We have five games left but we have to pick up more points than Everton and Bolton. My message to the players is we look to the next game. We have to beat Portsmouth and then we will see. In football there are always possibilities and we need to think only about the next game which is Portsmouth."
With Everton three points ahead – with a game in hand – there’s every chance that goal-difference will have a part to play in the final standings. Liverpool can now hope to add to their goal tally with Morientes, Cisse and Baros all available for selection tomorrow. Benitez continued: "We need to keep playing well, create chances and with a little more luck we will score more goals. We have more possibilities now that Baros is back and Cisse is working hard. He is not in the best physical condition but he is fit which is good for us."
Harry Redknapp left Portsmouth recently under acrimonious circumstances, and so yet again Liverpool are facing a club with a new manager – Alain Perrin -out to prove his worth. This makes Portsmouth something of an unknown quantity says Rafa: "I remember when we played Portsmouth at Anfield and they scored an injury time equaliser. We will try to do different things this time but they have changed their manager and it will be a difficult game."
If Liverpool are to score more goals their fit-again strikers need good service. Liverpool will tomorrow night have at their disposal two of the Premiership’s best midfielders – Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard. Skipper Gerrard was devastated at the weekend to miss a penalty, and also hit the post and was pulled back for offside (incorrectly) when one-on-one with the keeper. Now Rafa is hoping his captain’s fortunes improve: "Gerrard is very important to us and playing with Xabi Alonso that gives us more possibilities. Steven wants to win more than anyone and I have full confidence in him. Steven is working hard and wants us to finish fourth. He didn’t have much luck against Tottenham and was unlucky when he hit the post at the end. With a little luck maybe he can score against Portsmouth."
Xabi Alonso made his return to first team action last Wednesday in Turin – playing the whole game after three months out. He then played over eighty minutes on Saturday against Spurs, but Benitez isn’t going to rest the Spaniard: "I think Xabi will play because he is in very good physical condition. I know the player professionally and I know him as a person and I can always talk very well about him because he works hard and is always thinking about his fitness."
Benitez is aware of how important to Liverpool’s final push Alonso is, and he knows he can rely on Xabi not to push himself further than he needs to: "He talks to the physio all the time and is always positive. He told me at half-time on Saturday he was a bit tired and I was thinking about changing it earlier, but he can pass the ball properly and control the game. In the end he played 80 minutes and played a good game. For us he is a very important player because he can change the game for us."
Liverpool have at least seven games left this season – hopefully eight – and Liverpool fans are hoping Alonso can change them all into their favour.