Reds coach Rafael Benitez says he’s likely to start tomorrow night’s Champions League match against Anderlecht with Djibril Cisse on the field.
Cisse was subject of speculation during the summer about a move away from Anfield, and this was renewed last week after he made comments saying he was unhappy at being left on the bench. Rafa made comments last week to reinforce his view that he will rotate players for the good of the club as a whole, even more so in this extended season. Once the international duties were over though both Djibs and Rafa have claimed there is no problem with their relationship, which they describe as "professional". Cisse made his return to the starting line-up on Saturday, scoring a good goal from a set-piece.
Now Rafa sees the chance to use Cisse’s pace against Anderlecht, who are still to pick up a point in Group G. The boss said: "Anderlecht know they must win to have any chance of qualifying and they realise this could be their last chance. If they attack high up the pitch, we will have chances to exploit and maybe Cisse will start."
Cisse may not start of course – Rafa only said "maybe" – but Rafa reiterated that this shouldn’t cause a problem to the French striker either way. "There was a lot of talk about our relationship," said Rafa, "Our relationship is a professional one. We have no problems. If he works hard for the team he can play more games, but it depends also on his team mates."
As Rafa points out though, Liverpool have a few strikers available when they’re all fit. Neil Mellor is well on the way back to full fitness and has been told privately by the boss that he’s definitely part of his plans. He’ll then be able to join up with Cisse and three other strikers in the fight for a starting place. Rafa says the competition will be good for him as the manager, but makes things harder for Cisse: "If Fernando Morientes plays well, or Peter Crouch or Florent Simana Pongelle then it would be more difficult for him, and better for me because competition is always good for the team. He’s a good professional. He’s working and trying to play and I must decide on things."
As Rafa says, when all five strikers are available, someone is always going to be disappointed: "When you have a lot of strikers you have to make decisions. It’s impossible to say a striker will play all the games."
Benitez also pointed out that although Anderlecht are still without a point, it doesn’t mean they will be an easy team to overcome: "If you look at the players they have in their team, it’s clear that they are not a bad team. They have a lot of quality to choose from and they attack with pace."
Rafa hopes he’s found their weaknesses, but he’s also hoping he’s been able to prepare for their strengths: "They certainly play some nice football but sometimes when they go forward, they leave some space open at the back. I’ve watched their game against Real Betis and they created a couple of clear openings before Betis scored. They will want to win and so do we so it could be a very exciting game of football to look forward to."
* Blackburn’s defender Zurab Khizanishvili, sent off by Mark Halsey at Anfield on Saturday, has won an appeal against the decision. The sending off was for bringing down Djibril Cisse, which in the opinion of the referee at the time had prevented a goalscoring opportunity. He’d have been suspended for the next game but now the FA disciplinary hearing has overturned the decision he’s free to face Birmingham at the weekend.