Tuesday, January 15, 2008

FA Cup Preview: Liverpool vs. Luton

League One strugglers Luton Town travel to Anfield for their lucrative FA Cup third round replay against Liverpool.

You could virtually copy and paste the previews of Liverpool’s last two matches, for nothing has changed. Off the field politics continues to play a prominent yet unwanted role. On the field the Reds look lethargic, drawing games against lesser sides and relying as always on the exceptional Fernando Torres to dig them out of holes.

Two more points were dropped against Middlesbrough on Saturday – the first half was particularly shambolic, something Liverpool fans have almost resigned themselves to as their side’s stuttering start to 2008 (three 1-1 draws) continues.

The gap to leaders Manchester United is now 12pts, but the bitter truth is that Liverpool’s rivals are no longer United, Arsenal and Chelsea, but actually Everton, Manchester City and Aston Villa. As far as the Premier League goes, the aim must now realistically be fourth spot, a step backwards from previous seasons.

Nobody knows what will transpire at Anfield in the summer (you have to question the sense in Hicks making public his approach to Jürgen Klinsmann, a move that has strongly undermined Benítez) but Liverpool need trophies to appease their owners and, most crucially, the fans.

Thus this FA Cup replay against Luton Town just got a whole lot more important. Supporters expect the Reds to win Tuesday night’s game at Anfield, but it is the manner of the win that is significant. Hitting the League One strugglers for four or five will yield greater satisfaction and boost squad morale far more than a drab 1-0.

This may be a game against inferior opposition, but it remains an opportunity for those not named Torres or Gerrard to step up to the plate.

Convention says a win is better than a draw, but for Luton Town, a club on the brink of insolvency, nothing could have been finer than the 1-1 FA Cup draw with giants Liverpool nine days ago. John Arne Riise’s own goal gave the Hatters that all important equaliser, earning them a lucrative rematch at Anfield and a windfall of up to £500,000.

It all helps, but until a buyer is found this continues to be a club in dire straits. The latest setback occurred as boss Kevin Blackwell tendered his resignation. Unlike a well known brand of quick drying wood stain, Blackwell stated that Luton Town “did not do what it said on the tin.”

Disillusioned with the club's predicament, Blackwell released a statement last Friday: "We have ended up managing a squad of players who do not know if they are being paid or have a future with the football club,” he said. “It is now our belief that no possible future scenario for this club can match in any way shape or form what we came here to do.

"Ironically we no longer have contracts that would require us to give notice but we are acutely aware that just to walk away would simply add to the short-term problems. We will therefore continue work under our basic terms and conditions for approximately one month, leaving the club after home game against Bournemouth on February 9th."

The final straw proved to be a broken promise that nobody would be sold before the Liverpool rematch. As it is, star players David Edwards (Wolves) and Chris Coyne (Colchester) have been cashed in, with three others out on loan and further bids placed for Brill, Calvin and Talbott – all of whom started against Liverpool last weekend – being considered.



Middlesbrough - Liverpool 1 - 1 12/01/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Luton - Liverpool 1 - 1 06/01/2008 FA CUP
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


Luton - Swansea 1 - 3 12/01/2008 LEAGUE ONE
Luton - Liverpool 1 - 1 06/01/2008 FA CUP
Luton - Yeovil 1 - 0 01/01/2008 LEAGUE ONE
Port Vale - Luton 1 - 2 29/12/2007 LEAGUE ONE
Bristol Rovers - Luton 1 - 1 26/12/2007 LEAGUE ONE
Luton - Tranmere 1 - 0 22/12/2007 LEAGUE ONE



It’s fantasy Rafa time once again as we try to guess Benítez’ team selection. Inevitably enough, rotation should be the order of the day in a game that should not need Gerrard or Torres to be won. Jamie Carragher will captain the Reds in his 500th matchMartin Skrtel may gain his first taste of English football but Daniel Agger has suffered another injury setback. Ryan Babel could return to the side after impressing as a substitute against Middlesbrough, while Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt look likely to start up front.


The Hatters really are in deep trouble as Blackwell has revealed players may pull out of the match for fear of getting injured and scuppering potential transfers elsewhere. Members of the squad have received just four-and-a-half weeks' wages in three months. New captain Chris Perry is a doubt with a thigh strain, but more worryingly so is goalkeeper Dean Brill - the club have no fit reserve. Matthew Spring returns from suspension and Sam Parkin from a long-term injury.


Liverpool – Peter Crouch

Crouch appears to have become fourth choice striker at Anfield now as he jostles with Voronin and Kuyt for the right to partner Torres in the big games. Looking at the stats gives you an inclination as to why: midway through January, Crouch has yet to score a goal in the Premier League.

The big man was left out again at Middlesbrough, but the last of this season’s five goals was against Luton in the original third round tie. This may predominantly be a game for the Reds’ second-string but with Kuyt and Voronin also misfiring the England international must take his chances to convince Benítez of his worth.

Luton – The whole team

Desperate times call for innovative measures... recommending readers keep an eye out for Luton Town during this difficult time. The club appears to be on its last legs but all fans of football must hope a buyer is found and the Hatters' future secured. As the world's richest teams become increasingly financially and sportingly dominant it is easy to forget about the trials and tribulations of those beyond the Premiership.

Rush: Red Faces All Round

Liverpool are in danger of becoming a laughing stock under the ownership of George Gillett and Tom Hicks, according to Kop legend Ian Rush.

Rush accused the American tycoons of undermining the great traditions at Anfield after they admitted lining up Jurgen Klinsmann to replace Rafael Benitez as manager.

"Now people are going to say the club is a laughing stock," said Rush, who scored a record 346 goals in 640 Liverpool appearances.

He added in The Sun: "In many ways, you can understand that because this is not the way Liverpool normally do things.

"The tradition of the club - and the very thing that has made them so hugely respected throughout the world - is to do everything in-house, not out in the open like this.

"Look at Newcastle - we certainly don't want to get like that. That's just change for the sake of it. With Harry Redknapp turning them down, it's just going to drag on and on. That doesn't help anyone.

"Now we all know that in football these days there's only one winner - the owners.

"But admitting that Klinsmann was approached is poor timing and puts a lot more pressure on Rafa.

"It's not just upsetting for Rafa but for the players and the fans as well. Everything seemed to be dying down a bit but now it's all been blown up again."

Benitez fell out with Gillett and Hicks towards the end of last year over the clubs transfer policy and the co-owners claim their fear the Spaniard would walk away prompted them to seek "an insurance policy" in the shape of Klinsmann.

They also said they wanted to learn more about English and European football from Klinsmann, who had two spells at Tottenham as a player.

But Rush questioned their motives, insisting Benitez knew far more about both areas of the game than the German.

The former striker fears Benitez will now be seen as "a dead man walking" but urged Gillett and Hicks to give him until the summer to show progress was being made at Anfield.

Liverpool Seek Cup Win While Luton Happy With The Cash

Jamie Carragher will captain Liverpool on his 500th appearance for the club when they face Luton Town in an FA Cup third-round replay at Anfield on Tuesday.

The Reds should end a poor run of four successive draws when they face the League One (third division) side, who surprisingly held them to a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road nine days ago.

Since then the financial problems which have forced Luton into adminstration this season have bitten even deeper with several players having left and manager Kevin Blackwell announcing that he will be departing next month.

At least impoverished Luton should bank around 500,000 pounds ($980,600) from the match. The only result beleaguered Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez wants is a resounding win to help quash, for a while, the never-ending speculation surrounding his position.

Tuesday's only all-Premier League replay is at the Madejski Stadium where Reading face Tottenham Hotspur for the third time in 18 days following their 6-4 league defeat at White Hart Lane on Dec 29 and their 2-2 Cup draw there the following week.

Two Premier League sides are on a hiding to nothing with Fulham visiting League One club Bristol Rovers and Derby County, with only one league win all season, facing Sheffield Wednesday of the Championship.

Benitez - We Must Do Better

Rafa Benitez believes that Liverpool need to improve if they are to get anything from this season, starting in the FA Cup third round replay against Luton on Tuesday night.

The Spaniard has seen his side record four consecutive draws in all competitions and are yet to post a victory in 2008.

The disappointing cup draw at Kenilworth Road was followed up by another 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough on Saturday, a result which leaves the Reds 12 points behind leaders Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title.

Benitez is well aware that performances must improve quickly and has challenged his players to show their quality over the next few weeks.

"We know we must improve," he told the club's official website.

"Clearly we talked about this after the game, but the players know when we have played badly.

"The mentality and the attitude must always be 100 per cent commitment, must always be 100 per cent for winning from the first minute. We must think about this.

"All of us need to improve. The players know that some players are playing well and scoring goals, so we need to see the other players doing what they were doing at the beginning of the season when we were scoring goals from everywhere.

"The players and the staff know we must play better and give the fans more. We will try and do that against Luton at Anfield.

"The quality is there. We were playing some fantastic football at the beginning of the season and also in some of the Champions League games. The football is there, but maybe it's a little bit of confidence that we need at the moment.

"When you have chances and you don't score, everybody starts talking about how we got another draw, so the players can maybe lose confidence.

"But it's simple how you can change this: winning, scoring goals and playing well."

Hicks Confirms Klinsmann Talks

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has cast more doubt over Rafa Benitez's future at Anfield after confirming the club lined up a move for Jurgen Klinsmann before the German moved to Bayern Munich.

Benitez's position at Liverpool has been the subject of virtually constant speculation ever since his row with Hicks and fellow co-owner George Gillett.

During that time, Klinsmann was strongly linked with a move to Liverpool with the American pair believed to be big admirers of the former Germany coach.

And Hicks has now sensationally admitted that the tried to negotiate an option to bring the former Tottenham hero to Anfield as a replacement for Benitez.

He told the Liverpool Echo: "We attempted to negotiate an option, as an insurance policy, to have him become manager if Rafa left for Real Madrid or other clubs that were rumoured in the UK press."

"Or in case our communication spiralled out of control for some reason."

Benitez has played down the rumours over his future saying he is happy at Anfield, but Hicks' comments could see the Spaniard's position become untenable.

Hicks does, however, insist Benitez does now have his full support.

He added: "After George and I had our long and productive meeting with Rafa following the Man United match, we put all of our issues behind us and received Rafa's commitment that he wanted to stay with Liverpool.

"We never reached agreement on an option with Jurgen, and we are both pleased for him that he has a great opportunity to return to Germany and coach a great club team.

"Rafa has both of our support, and our communication has greatly improved."

Lawro: Liverpool Promises Don't Ring True

Liverpool legend Mark Lawrenson says the actions of the club's co-owners are "very very strange" after it was revealed they met Jurgen Klinsmann.

American investor Tom Hicks had talks with the former Germany boss, but insists that was an "insurance option" should Rafa Benitez leave for Real Madrid.

Mirror columnist Lawro, a stalwart of the famous Liverpool sides of the 1980s, believes Hicks and business partner George Gillett are making some poor decisions.

He said: "I just find some of the things they are doing are very very strange indeed.

"They have wanted Klinsmann to say: 'I will take the job if Benitez goes', which is strange in itself. Because how would that come about?

"Their actions are very, very difficult to work out and I think the majority of Liverpool fans are looking at this and thinking it doesn't bode well for the future."

Lawrenson believes Benitez's response to the news could go either way. He added: "Benitez could say: 'That's out of order' and walk or he could turn around and get on with things - it's purely down to his reaction."

Supporters have already marched through the streets of the city this season to back their beleaguered manager, and Lawrenson added: "The vast majority of Liverpool fans are pro-Benitez. I think they will be even more so against Luton."

"When these two Americans took over the club, it was supposed to be a brand new dawn, a new stadium was on the way, etc, etc, etc but something just doesn't ring true - I sometimes think the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."