So we’ve survived the mundane formalities of another international break and its time for the real action to get underway again this weekend, with the return of Premier League football after a two week hiatus. No last minute fanfare signings, or eleventh hour panic buys, to occupy us this season, as the much-hyped transfer deadline day has passed-by with a rather pathetic whimper since the last time the Reds were in action. So the same personnel will return to Melwood this week to tackle the challenge of rectifying a rather underwhelming start to season 09/10.
New Premier League upstarts Burnley provide the opposition at Anfield this Saturday afternoon. The spirit and attacking intent which the Turf Moor outfit have shown in the opening weeks of the season is reminiscent of the start Hull City made to the previous campaign. And you can be sure that Owen Coyle and his staff would be more than satisfied to match the 17th place finish, which Hull achieved, come May. Having returned to the top flight after a 33 year absence, back-to-back home victories over Man United and Everton have grabbed the attention and will ensure that their visit to Anfield will not be taken too lightly by Rafa.
Having occasionally watched Burnley during their impressive cup run last season and the start of this, they clearly possess an attacking mentality and players who are capable of playing football when necessary. However the hope at Anfield will be that this can play into Liverpool’s hands.
Whilst victories over our bitter rivals have certainly been impressive, both have come on home turf. Away from home they have yet to score a goal or gain a point – as may be expected from a newly promoted side. The Reds have struggled to date against sides willing to sit back and frustrate. Whilst I won’t bore you by repeating the tale of us missing a certain number 14, it is true that Liverpool have often appeared to lack a creative bite or killer instinct in midfield on such occasions. Burnley, however, have yet to prove that they are capable of playing the more conservative holding football which is sure to be required of them at times when visiting the likes of Anfield and Old Trafford.
If The Clarets are to set out with a more open mindset, more familiar to them, then it could possibly allow the Reds to build up some momentum and play the fast, flowing attacking game which we became so familiar with last season. Turning a potentially crippling defeat into a victory prior to the international break has given the team something to build. This can hopefully provide the catalyst for a much needed return to form starting with Burnley on Saturday.
At the back it seems that Rafa will have a straight choice between the ever-reliable Martin Skrtel and new boy Sotirios Kyrgiakos to partner Jamie Carragher. Judging by his performance at the Reebok Stadium the Greek centre-back may need more time to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League. Kyrgiakos is unlikely to be in for the same type of game as he experienced against Bolton when up against the likes of Steven Fletcher and Robbie Blake. But with Skrtel having completed 90 minutes as Slovakia came close to booking their place in next years World Cup in mid-week, he may not get the chance this weekend. Skrtel may well be vital to us achieving some much-needed defensive solidity. Although I’m sure, as ever, Rafa will be keen not to rush him into action too soon.
At left-back Benitez could have another decision to make. I am personally a fan of Emiliano Insua and I’m keen for him, as a young player, to get as much first-team football as possible. But the indications of a return from injury for Fabio Aurelio can only be a positive. Aurelio finally finding some fitness and form last year was a big bonus, and his experience at the back will be a plus.
In midfield, Javier Mascherano and co would be expected to comfortably nullify Wade Elliot and Joey Gudjonsson. And, although I am sure Rafa is more likely to stick with the midfield combo of Lucas and Mascherano, there is a temptation to move Steven Gerrard back into midfield. With Alberto Aquilani still missing, Gerrard’s ability could be utilised in deeper areas with Yossi Benayoun operating in a more central role. Although this would of course effect the Gerrard-Torres partnership. And they could have plenty of opportunities to exploit the lack of pace in the centre-back pairing of Clarke Carlisle and Andre Bikey.
After Rafa’s well disguised words of encouragement, Gerrard’s crucial winner against Bolton, plus his 2 goal cameo for England in mid-week, will hopefully help him achieve his top form. Everyone knows how vital a flying Steven Gerrard can be.
Burnley one to watch:
The young Northern Ireland international has yet to find the net this season, but scored some crucial goals for the Clarets last season. The lively Burnley forward will look to involve himself in any attacking play if Burnley are able to create anything.