Peace and quiet ahead of derby

Robbie Fowler was probably secretly pleased when he saw the fixture list and the first Merseyside derby of the season falling straight after some international fixtures.

Many Liverpool fans would argue that he should still be considered as an option by his country, but Fowler is more than happy at 31 to be playing exclusively for his club. Forget all this stuff about him being a blue as a kid – he’s Red through and through now, as we found out when he got the chance to come home in January.

Peter Crouch is likely to continue up front for England tonight following his brace on Saturday, and Craig Bellamy played for Wales on both Saturday – in a European Qualifier – and last night, in the friendly defeat against Brazil. Holland play host to Belarus in their qualifier tonight, meaning Dirk Kuyt could also be playing tonight. It really does look likely that Rafa’s plans for the derby are “Fowler plus one other” up front.

Robbie missed out on his chance to take part in a Merseyside derby last
season; he was left on the bench for the game which saw Steven Gerrard,
wearing “08” on his shirt, sent off.  Robbie did play in a Manchester
derby last season though, and scored for City in their win over United,
memorable mostly for Robbie’s five-fingered “Five Times” salute after
scoring. If he plays this weekend it will be his 16th derby for the

For all the noise and venom we'll hear for the derby game itself, ahead of it Rafa must be beginning to think his ears have stopped working. Most of Liverpool’s first-team squad have been on international duty
since the last Liverpool game, meaning Rafa really doesn’t know what
kind of squad he’ll have at his disposal. He's got hardly anyone to train with this week, and playing against Everton
means that any players carrying injuries may be better rested rather
than risk them being hacked down.

It’s in defence where Liverpool seem to have been hardest hit by injury
in the early stage of the season. They lost two left backs in John Arne
Riise and Stephen Warnock, but probably more worryingly was the loss of
Jamie Carragher. In midfield Liverpool then lost a player in Momo
Sissoko who was missed so sorely last season after he damaged his eye.
Riise and Carragher have an outside chance of getting back into things
for the weekend, but have yet to take part in a full training session.

All in all it sounds like it will be difficult for Rafa to get the team
ready for the fixture – most players won’t be able to take part in
anything like a “normal” training session until Friday, by which time
Rafa won’t want to be over-exerting them! Everton have similar problems
with their missing players of course, before we get any emails from
Rhyl about how biased we are on this site!

* Blackburn have announced that they are about to make an improved
contract offer to their Australian defender Lucas Neill, in a
last-ditch attempt at keeping him at the club.

Neill is allowed to leave on a free at the end of the season when his
contract expires, and of course can also talk to interested clubs from
the 1st of January. Rovers tried to persuade him to sign a new deal
early in the summer, but he turned this down, preferring instead to
move to Liverpool. That move failed at the last minute though because
Liverpool considered Blackburn were over-pricing the player at £2m.

Now the Blackburn chairman John Williams has confirmed that even after
that near loss of the player they want to still try and persuade him to
stay on. He said: “It's still our intention that Lucas will sign a new
contract and we will be presenting him with a new variation shortly. He
did turn our first offer down before the World Cup but we will be
offering him an improved version.”

There is still a possibility of Neill paying a fee to release himself from the remainder of his contract.