Friday, September 28, 2007

Match Preview: Wigan Athletic vs LiverpooL

Wigan have never beaten Liverpool in the league so this is their opportunity to turn things around. The Latics are a more confident side under Chris Hutchings and play some decent football.

The loss of Emile Heskey has spoilt the manager’s plans but Marcus Bent and Antoine Sibierski should keep the boat floating until his return. The main talking point of Wigan’s inspiring start to the season has been the outstanding performances of Jason Koumas.

Though he is underestimated, the talented midfielder has a very good eye for the game and can play some quality balls into the box. As long as Koumas can keep his form up, Wigan should be fine.

Liverpool have come under heavy criticism recently over Benitez’s decision to leave star striker Fernando Torres on the bench for the disappointing draws against Portsmouth and Birmingham. The young Spanish hitman took his chance to impress the manager by scoring an outstanding hat trick in the 4-2 defeat of Reading in the Carling Cup.

However, what the gaffer must now decide is which pair of his four quality strikers he should choose against Wigan, in order to hurt the Latics most. Come Saturday, the team sheet is likely to contain Torres, though you never know with Rafa Benitez, who likes to rotate his players every game in order to keep them fresh and raring to go.

Liverpool should find this a very easy task. They have never been beaten by Wigan and certainly won’t be looking to lose this weekend. Rafael Benitez’s only problem is whether he should stick to his under fire rotation policy.

Though it does have its upsides, the tactic also has its negatives, such as players being unable to gel with each other. I am sure though that come Saturday evening, with three points in the bag, the pressure will come off Benitez and his tactics.


Wigan (from): Kirkland, Melchiot, Granqvist, Bramble, Kilbane, Brown, Scharner, Skoko, Koumas, Sibierski, Bent, Aghahowa, Boyce, Cotterill, Hall, Olembe, Taylor, Valencia, Pollitt.

Liverpool (from): Reina, Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Arbeloa, Aurelio, Riise, Pennant, Gerrard, Sissoko, Mascherano, Benayoun, Babel, Kuyt, Crouch, Voronin, Torres, Itandje.

Benitez: I Need To Keep Torres Fit

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez insists his hunger to secure major trophies is precisely the reason Fernando Torres is not starting every game.

Torres played only the last half-hour of last week's Premier League stalemate against Birmingham and responded in midweek with a stunning hat-trick in the Carling Cup win at Reading.

But despite Liverpool's desperate need to get back to winning ways in the league after two successive goalless draws, Benitez has warned Torres is far from guaranteed a starting place at Wigan on Saturday.

Benitez said: "Players can play 20 or 30 games in a row no problem, but the problem is at the end of the season when you are playing for trophies and you need players who are fresh, ready and fit.

"I don't need Fernando Torres fit for playing against Birmingham now if I have got (Peter) Crouch, (Andriy) Voronin and (Dirk) Kuyt. I need the speed of Torres in the last game of the season, for winning the Champions League or the Premier League.

"If you have a lot of strikers, you have to decide who is the best for each game. I decided Torres was best to play against Reading. These are the decisions you have to make as a manager."

Benitez is well aware he has to strike a fine balance between preserving his best players for what he hopes will be a crucial end-of-season run-in, and ensuring his side does not fall too far off the Premier League pace in the meantime.

The dropped points against Birmingham and Portsmouth have only left Liverpool four points off leaders Arsenal, but failure to pick up three points at the JJB Stadium would significantly increase the pressure.

However, Benitez remains as resolute as ever in his conviction his side would not accomplish anything if his squad dictated he had to play all his best players in every match.

He said: "If you are playing against a team with 20 or 25 players in their squad and they are changing their players, in the last weeks of the season they will be ready and fit and you will not.

"You cannot change the physical condition of a player in one week. If they are not ready at the end of the season after five months of playing every game, maybe you will play for trophies and you will lose.

"If you need to use your best players in the Carling Cup then you can't win the Champions League. If you need to play Torres, (Steven) Gerrard and (Jamie) Carragher in every game then it will be impossible."