While the Reds have performed strongly in Europe this season, smacking PSV Eindhoven 2-0 two weeks ago to claim the top spot in their Champions League group with one match remaining, their Premiership form hasn’t been nearly as good. Fortunately, with the exception of Manchester United and Chelsea, neither have the rest of the squads and so after yesterday’s Wigan smackdown Liverpool sit fifth in the table, level on 25 points (out of a possible 48) with Arsenal, Portsmouth and Reading.
(Manchester United and Chelsea are running away from everyone else but keeping things interesting by staying within a win of each other.)
The away win over the Latics was comprehensive, with StevieG driving the offense and Craig Bellamy scoring twice to make his case for more playing time while RoboCrouch clears up back trouble. Having seen several Bolton games on FSC lately, and with our injury troubles in midfield, I’d be very interested to see Rafa run out a 4-3-3 formation with Bellamy, Crouch and Kuyt up top, Gerrard and Alonso as playmakers and Carragher or Hyypia in the holding spot (Sissoko would be first choice, of course, but he’s out until February). Highly doubtful that our headman will even consider such a lineup but one can dream.
The Reds have a busy December, especially given the size of the injury list. They travel to Istanbul Tuesday for the final CL group match against Galatasaray at the scene of their May, 2005, Champions league glory, which will allow Benitez to give keeper Jerzy Dudek a final start, and Fulham visit on Saturday.
After a week off the holiday congestion really hits (all Premiership contests unless noted):
- Away to Charlton on the 16th (Saturday)
- We host a midweek Carling Cup match with Arsenal (Tuesday)
- Watford comes to Anfield on the 23rd (Saturday)
- Away to Blackburn on the 26th (Tuesday)
- Travel to London to play Tottenham on Dec. 30 (Saturday)
- Bolton visits on New Year’s Day (a Monday)
- Finally, on Sat., Jan. 6, another cup tie against Arsenal at Anfield, this time for the third round of the FA Cup
Of the 18 points up for grabs in the six EPL matches I can see 14 being a very achievable minimum take; Big Sam’s Bolton seems like the toughest league test and all 18 not being out of reach. The two tournament fixtures against Arsenal are another story, of course, since they beat us 3-0 (at their new stadium) just three weeks ago though with the injury/dissension trouble with captain Thierry Henry, a run of poor play and continuing questions at fullback both games should be competitive.
Meanwhile, the rumor mill is hotting up as the calendar change takes us within a month of the next transfer window. LFC speculation is focused (as far as I can tell from this distance) on three players, two midfielders and a defender. Both midfield targets are babies, only 16 years old, and despite being regular starters I wonder if they’d have much impact on this season; Jamie McCarthy is on the books at Scotttish League club Hamilton Academical with Championship contender Derby’s Giles Barnes the other player of interest. Blackburn’s Lucas Neill, though, is a seasoned pro who might slot in at left fullback and allow John Arne Riise to push forward to the left side of midfield. Dudek, barring injury at the position, is the most likely departure.
P.S.: If you’re wondering about Freddie Adu making a move after his trial with Manchester United, the word is no. Or at least not yet, and his DC United coach publicly stated it would be a poor choice even if the Red Devils make an offer; a better one is to sign with a club with a history of developing young players like the above-mentioned PSV (who recently sold American team star Damarcus Beasley onto the EPL) or Dutch #2 Ajax. Clint Dempsey, already 23 and the best American player at this summer’s World Cup, on the other hand looks set to
join national teammate Brian McBride at Fulham.