Liverpool travel to The Riverside Stadium on Saturday for the early evening kick off against Middlesbrough. The Reds are still looking for their first League away win of the season, and even their first goal from open play away from Anfield in a Premiership season many people forecast them to give a strong challenge to Chelsea.
After five successive wins, four at home and one away to Birmingham, Liverpool looked to have been heading in the right direction. But last Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, and much the manner of the performance, has given the press a week of headlines and scepticism surrounding Rafa Benitez’s team.
Pepe Reina’s rather ill-timed comments that the title was lost and that fourth place was the target now didn’t help things, and although John Arne Riise’s “only cowards give up” was no doubt not aimed directly at Reina, it did give the press another chance to stir things up.
With qualification for the next stage of the Champions League and PSV at Anfield on Wednesday, Benitez should be able to field a full strength team without worry of resting players for European commitments. That could mean Steven Gerrard moving into the centre, which Gerrard reportedly hinted at after playing in a more central role for England in Holland on Wednesday.
But Benitez may choose to give Bolo Zenden another chance alongside Alonso in the middle, against his former club with whom he won the player of the year award in his final season before joining Liverpool in 2005.
On the left, there’s the possibility Riise will move to midfield allowing Stephen Warnock to come in at left back, but more likely is the inclusion of Luis Garcia or Mark Gonzales. Gonzales though was disappointing in the Highbury defeat and is still struggling to settle in the Premiership, he looks more comfortable at home – much like the team itself.
Up front Craig Bellamy is pushing for a starting place after a good performance, and a goal, for Wales. His mobility and pace could bring new life to a static looking Liverpool and could find himself in ahead of Peter Crouch to partner Dirk Kuyt.
11 November v West Ham (H) WON 1-0 (Maccarone)
04 November v Watford (A) LOST 0-2
30 October v Manchester City (A) LOST 0-1
22 October v Newcastle (H) WON 1-0 (Yakubu)
14 October v Everton (H) WON 2-1 (Yakubu pen, Viduka)
30 September v Sheff Utd (A) LOST 1-2 (Yakubu)
12 November v Arsenal (A) LOST 0-3
08 November v Birmingham (A) (Carling Cup) WON 1-0 (Agger)
04 November v Reading (H) WON 2-0 (Kuyt 2)
31 October v Bordeaux (H) (CL) WON 3-0 (Luis Garcia 2, Gerrard)
28 October v Aston Villa (H) WON 3-1 (Kuyt, Crouch, Luis Garcia)
25 October v Liverpool (H) (Carling Cup) WON 4-3 (Fowler, Riise, Paletta, Crouch)
Middlesbrough: Malcolm Christie (ankle), Anthony McMahon (broken leg), Mark Viduka (foot), Stuart Parnaby (foot), Stewart Downing (groin), Ray Parlour (groin), Lee Cattermole (leg), Andrew Davies (thigh/calf).
Liverpool: Fabio Aurelio (groin), Harry Kewell (groin), Luis Garcia (hamstring), Mo Sissoko (shoulder).
Probable Starting XIs:
Middlesbrough: (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Davies, Taylor, Pogatetz, Woodgate; Boateng, Cattermole, Downing, Morrison, Rochemback; Yakubu
Liverpool: Reina ; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise; Gerrard, Alonso, Zenden, Garcia; Bellamy, Kuyt (If that’s correct do I get the lottery numbers?)