Saturday, December 08, 2007

Liverpool Kicks Off Crucial Week Of Premier League And European Action With Vvisit To Reading

The Reds have a must-win Champions League match at Marseille followed by a clash with fierce rival and defending Premier League champion Manchester United, but first has to defend its unbeaten start to the English season at Reading.

Fortunately for Liverpool, it appears to have overcome a rocky spell that included a cluster of drawn matches and has hit 21 goals in its past five games, while conceding just once.

Liverpool is seven points behind leader Arsenal, which is at Middlesbrough on Sunday, and manager Rafa Benitez is eager for another three points as he seeks to end Liverpool's 17-year streak without an English league title.

"I always think of one game at a time and the players know how important this match at Reading is,'' Benitez said. “We need to be focused in every game and we want to keep the pressure up on the other teams.''

And Liverpool should be confident of doing just that.

It has already beaten Reading this season, with Fernando Torres hitting a hat trick for a 4-2 League Cup win.

With Liverpool scoring whoever is in the team, Benitez may rest the Spain striker for the upcoming matches and field Peter Crouch up front.

Benitez also has to decide whether to bring Xabi Alonso, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio back into the team after they returned to training after injuries, while Jamie Carragher has recovered from bruised ribs and is set to play.

With a 10-point gap having developed between ninth and 12th, Reading is marooned in the bottom half of the standings and keen to put distance between itself and the relegation zone - which is just three points back.

"It will be a tough game against a side with a very good team spirit,'' Benitez said.

Reading will be without John Oster because he needs ankle surgery, while defender Michael Duberry is not ready to return even though he has resumed training following cracked ribs.

Victory for Liverpool is even more important because Manchester United, which is three points ahead in second place, has a home match against last-place Derby.

Reading v Liverpool - Reds' Benitez Has Dilemma On Carragher - Royals Miss Oster

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez will be looking to maintain the club's unbeaten record in the Premiership this season and eyeing a victory over Reading at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

While The Royals have picked just one point from the last four games, The Reds are in a blazing form having won their last three league games, five in all competitions.

Steve Coppell's side are without winger John Oster who has to undergo an ankle surgery, while defender Michael Duberry has joined in training after recovering from cracked ribs but apparently is not fit to play.

Benitez however has a dilemma whether to play Jamie Carragher if the defender recovers fully from the blow to his ribs. The former England international is just a booking away from a suspension and given that Reds next play Manchester United in the league, Carragher could well not be risked.

Daniel Agger may return from his long absence due to a metatarsal problem while Jack Hobbs is also an option.


Reading (from): Hahnemann, Federici, Murty, de la Cruz, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Bikey, Cisse, Shorey, Rosenior, Gunnarsson, Harper, Fae, Hunt, Convey, Doyle, Kitson, Long, Lita.

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

Benitez Set To Gamble

Rafa Benitez is prepared to gamble with Fernando Torres’ fitness ahead of a landmark week in Liverpool’s season.

The in-form forward was subjected to a physical battering at Reading in the Carling Cup earlier this season.

But the Anfield boss would be happy to push his top scorer back into the front line on Saturday, even with the must-win Champions League clash at Marseille looming just three days later.

Benitez admitted yesterday he hadn’t decided on his starting line up for Saturday's tea-time trip to the Madejski Stadium, but said he would have no qualms about handing Torres his fourth start in succession, matching the longest run of games he has had since joining the club.

“I think it will be difficult for all our players because Reading are physical and they are strong,” explained Benitez.

“It is especially difficult for the strikers. But Torres is strong enough and he also has ability and good movement, so if the team is playing well he can manage with the physical game.

“I think Torres can produce good movement and it will be difficult to control him.

“He has been resting for one month so he is fresh and we can use him more often now.

“The key for me is when you have two games in a week, with only two or three days in between, it makes a big difference in how you play.

“But Torres is fit and we don't have any problems about him playing two or three games now.”

Benitez added that some players are better suited to the demands of back to back fixtures.

“We try to manage the players, but some players can handle the games better than others,” he added.

“If we can talk about one – Momo Sissoko – he can play at a very high tempo and be fit in two or three days. Other players who are older or who play in another position may need four or five days. So you need to know all these things.

“Torres is a player who can work for the team, but I am pleased with all our strikers.

“Voronin can do the job, Crouch can do the job and Kuyt can do the job, too. All of them work hard to defend for the team and all of them can go forward and score goals.

“So I am really pleased with the forwards.”