Although it’s still big news in the city of Liverpool, what might turn out to be one of the last true Liverpool derbies isn’t very high up in the running order for most sports bulletins in Britain today.
England’s Rugby Union players are dominating the headlines, with their World Cup Final due to take place in Paris this evening, and then there’s British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton who is bidding to become World Champion in his first season, a feat he can achieve in Brazil tomorrow.
All that positive attention is deflecting attention away from the derby. Also, during the week, the English football players more or less knocked themselves out of Euro 2008, and the aftermath of that has taken up most of the space that was left after the rugby and motor sport had been spoken about.
The lack of attention might just help the Liverpool players today. They’ve had a lot of negative press of late. Rafa Benitez has been criticised incessantly for rotating players rather than using his best team, with all kinds of convenient stats wheeled out to support the critics’ agendas. Some don’t even use stats. One pundit, an Evertonian himself, was so busy blaming rotation that he implied Rafa hadn’t changed his team at all prior to the recent drop in form. But much of this criticism has been lost in the noise from the nation’s other sporting interests, and has been buried a little more by the discontent coming from the Chelsea camp.
Rafa will have to rotate again today. Fernando Torres is not going to be able to line up at the start of this game despite making good progress over the week after suffering a muscle injury on international duty. Also set to be unavailable from the side that drew with Spurs last time out is Javier Mascherano who’s not recovered from Argentina’s game in midweek. His likely replacement is Xabi Alonso, who has been out during Liverpool’s recent run after breaking a metatarsal. This game looks to have come too soon for fellow metatarsal casualty Daniel Agger, meaning Sami Hyypia is likely to start alongside Jamie Carragher at the back.
Dirk Kuyt seems certain to come back into the side, with Andriy Voronin or Peter Crouch alongside him. Yossi Benayoun is almost certain to start today, having cut short his international duty with Israel this week to get back to Melwood early. Rafa may choose to play him in a more central role.
Kick-off is at 12.45pm UK time.