Sunday, January 06, 2008

FA Cup Preview: Luton Town vs. Liverpool (updated)

Cast your minds back two years to 7 January 2006 and you will no doubt remember the classic cup-tie of the third round that year.

In a game that will surely go down as one of the most remarkable in the magical history of the world's oldest cup competition, despite going 1-0 down, Luton hit back to lead the mighty Liverpool 3-1. However a Reds fightback saw them run out 5-3 winners with two memorable goals from Xabi Alonso- one from 40 yards and one from within his own half!

So history repeats itself on Sunday as Luton once again welcome the Merseyside giants to Kenilworth Road with dreams of a big FA Cup giant-killing in the forefront of their minds. Could we be in store for yet another Cup classic?

The FA Cup tie against Liverpool will provide Luton manager Kevin Blackwell with a little light relief on Sunday, which on the surface, may seem a rather strange statement.

Blackwell though has far bigger worries than Liverpool on his mind as Luton battle for their future existence. The League 1 club have recently been charged by the FA for making irregular payments, placed into administration, had 10 points deducted as a result, and been put up for sale.

The manager and the players were not paid in November and received only 50% of their December wages. The former Leeds boss faces seeing his best players sold off, while at the same time being unable to sign any replacements due to a transfer embargo placed on the club.

So not the ideal way to prepare for the visit of the five-times Eurpean and six-times FA Cup winners Liverpol.

"I can't even look to the end of the week at the moment, " Blackwell has said. "Something different happens every day and it is never good news - always bad.

"Everybody sees the big clubs and thinks that it is glamorous but right now, I can tell you, there is no glamour at Luton Town. We have all been issued with termination notices. Our jobs will be in place until someone decides that we are no longer required" he explained.

"And there is a real danger that the club might not be in existence in February or March. If we can't get a bidder who will come in and take the club on and take the debts on then there is only one outcome" Blackwell added.

The frustrating thing for the 49 year old boss is that matters on the pitch are actually going well at the present moment. The Hatters were unbeaten over the Christmas period, collecting 10 points from a possible 12. Before the points deduction, Luton had climbed well clear of the relegation zone in League 1 and moved towards the play-off zone.

Earlier in the season the club also enjoyed a fantastic run in the Carling Cup beating both Sunderland and Charlton, before very nearly causing a shock against Everton.

So Liverpool have been warned. Luton Town are are a club in severe financial difficulty, but the FA Cup is renound for throwing up unlikely stories. With Liverpool 12 points adrift of Arsenal at the top pf the Premier League, Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Wigan at Anfield appears to have dealt the Red's title ambitions a serious blow. With that the case, Rafa Benitez may have to adjust the way he approaches this game, knowing that any little slip up would only give his detractors more ammunition to use against him.

With the game live on Sky Sports, millions will be tuning in on Sunday to see whether Luton can produce the kind of performance they did back in 2006 and cause a massive Cup upset this time around.

Xabi Alonso, the hero of the 2006 tie, insists that the Reds are foccussed on the third round tie and know they face a tricky game.

"This is the first round of the FA Cup for us and it is a great competition so we are really looking forward to it. But it is a tricky tie and we will have to see what happens" he admitted.

"The thought of getting to Wembley is a motivation for us but there are still a lot of games to play before anyone thinks of that and first we have to concentrate on Luton.

"It's going to be a huge game for Luton and I'm sure they are going to work really hard so it is not going to be easy for us" he aded.

Reds fans will be hoping that it is a positive omen meeting Luton again, and that they can go on to win their seventh FA Cup and their first at the new Wembley.


Luton Town

Match Result Date Championship
Luton - Yeovil 1 - 0 01/01/2008 LEAGUE ONE
Port Vale - Luton 1 - 2 29/12/2007 LEAGUE ONE
Bristol R - Luton 1 - 1 26/12/2007 LEAGUE ONE
Luton - Tranmere 1 - 0 22/12/2007 LEAGUE ONE
Cheltenham - Luton 1 - 0 14/12/2007 LEAGUE ONE
Luton - Notts Forest 1 - 0 11/12/2007 FA CUP


Match Result Date Championship
Liverpool - Wigan Athletic 1 - 1 02/01/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Manchester City - Liverpool 0 - 0 30/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Derby - Liverpool 1 - 2 26/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Portsmouth 4 - 1 22/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE
Chelsea - Liverpool 2 - 0 19/12/2007 CARLING CUP
Liverpool - Man Utd. 0 - 1 16/12/2007 PREMIER LEAGUE


Luton Town

Kevin Blackwell has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the visit of Liverpool. The Luton boss will have Chris Coyne back from suspension, but will have to do without Jaroslaw Fojut, who has returned to Bolton following his loan spell.

Anthony Grant is suspended, but Sam Parkin is pushing for a recall after recovering from injury and Paul Furlong could start after a hamstring problem.

Veteran striker Paul Peschisolido is ruled out for the rest of the season with a serious ankle injury, while veteran midfielder Don Hutchinson would dearly love to get the chance to face his old club. The 35 year old may have to settle for a place on the bench though.

Last Starting XI: Brill, Goodall, Perry, Fojut, Bell, Currie (McVeigh), Edwards, Keane, Spring, Andrew, Talbot (Furlong)


Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is expected to shuffle his pack for the trip south after a busy festive programme, although not quite as much as some would have thought. Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun, Lucas and Andrei Voronin could all be handed places in the starting XI.

Steven Gerrard, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio have all been ruled out of Sunday's match. All three players picked up muscle injuries against Wigan in midweek and are sidelined for the trip to Kenilworth Road.

Last Starting XI: Reina, Finnan, Arbeloa, Carragher, Aurelio, Alonso, Mascherano (Crouch), Gerrard. Pennant (Kuyt), Kewell (Benayoun), Torres


Luton- David Bell

The highly rated 23-year-old midfielder has been a first-team regular at Kenilworth Road so far, scoring four goals for Kevin Blackwell's side. His performances have been impressive enough to attract the attention of West Bromwich Albion, who are reported to be lining up a bid for the £1 million rated wide man. In Luton's current plight he will be for sale, but a god showing against Liverpool may see a few more suitors knocking on Kevin Blackwell's door.

Liverpool- Yossi Benayoun

With Jermaine Pennant making a return to fitness, Benayoun will want to impress Rafa Benitez in every game he plays in order to maintain his place in the manager's thoughts. The summer signing has impressed during his first six months at Anfield and will surely enjoy the extra time and space he will get against Luton. The Israeli is really determined to reach the final this year to try to make up for the disappointment of losing in the 2006 final at the hands of Liverpool.

Jose Waits As Benitez Prepares To Leave

Rafa Benitez reportedly believes he will be sacked by Liverpool at the end of the season - and Jose Mourinho is poised to replace him at Anfield.

While previous reports of Benitez's imminent demise have proved premature, the Sunday papers are united in their belief that the Spaniard is preparing to leave England after his spat with Liverpool's American owners proved terminal.

According to The Sunday People, 'Benitez will finally join Real Madrid in the summer - at the third time of asking. Benitez believes he is a dead man walking at Anfield following his war with the Kop's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.'

And a 'close friend' of Benitez is quoted as saying in the News of the World: "Rafa wants to stay but now he believes he will be sacked because the owners have not shown they will back him."

Should he depart, Benitez will not be short of alternative employment. Real Madrid are said to be keen on recruiting him, while the People claims that 'Top Italian sides Inter and AC Milan are hot on the Spaniard's heels, with Bayern Munich also massively impressed by the former Valencia chief'.

Martin O'Neill and Jurgen Klinsmann would most probably be installed as the favourites to move into the Anfield hot seat but, in an intriguing twist, The Observer leads with the claim that 'Jose Mourinho is growing increasingly restless in his search for a return to management and is monitoring the position of Rafa Benitez at Liverpool.'

Out of work since his dismissal by Chelski in September, Mourinho has apparently become disenchanted with his prospects of returning to management with either Barcelona, Real Madrid or AC Milan.

According to The Observer, 'There has been no approach to Mourinho by the Americans, but Hicks and Gillett are understood to be actively considering replacement managers and are well aware of the abilities of the Portuguese, who discussed becoming Liverpool manager before joining Chelsea in 2004. Asked last night to comment on the pair's interest in employing Mourinho, Hicks declined.

'Mourinho's family were keen to live in London again when he was considering becoming England coach, although they do not hold the same enthusiasm about the wetter, colder and (in their view) less cosmopolitan North-West. 'Liverpool is not the same as London,' said a friend. 'But Liverpool is a big club and Jose loves English football. For now we have to wait.''