Liverpool expect all three of their stars who were substituted against Atletico Madrid to be fit for Sunday's Premier League clash at Chelsea.
Steven Gerrard, taken off on Wednesday with "tiredness", will lead the side while Robbie Keane (groin) and Xabi Alonso (knee) should also feature.
Striker Fernando Torres is losing his last-ditch battle for fitness following his hamstring injury and is more likely to return at home to Portsmouth on Wednesday.
Kick-off at Stamford Bridge is at 13.30 hours (GMT).
Probable Liverpool starting (from): Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Hyypia, Dossena, Aurelio, Babel, Benayoun, Gerrard, Mascherano, Alonso, Kuyt, Keane, Pennant, Riera, Lucas, Ngog, Cavalieri.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Liverpool expect all three of their stars who were substituted against Atletico Madrid to be fit for Sunday's Premier League clash at Chelsea.
Keane’s career has not exactly been characterised by injury but his time at Anfield has not been marked by a glut of goals either.
Keane doubled his Liverpool tally on Wednesday night from 14 appearances and has not yet scored for the club in the Premier League. Scoring is not his strength at the moment.
So if Rafael Benitez is genuinely concerned that the Irishman might not be fit to play at Chelsea on Sunday, he shouldn’t be.
Losing Fernando Torres to injury is a genuine blow but Keane’s possible absence is more of an irritation than a disappointment.
Even if neither are ready to play this weekend, it will not change the gameplan. Benitez usually tries to bore Chelsea into submission at Stamford Bridge and snatch a goal.
It doesn’t often work but that hasn’t put him off and regardless of improvements this season, not conceding rather than scoring was always going to be Liverpool’s priority.
The Dutchman made a brief appearance off the bench during Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.
Babel missed last weekend's win over Wigan with an ankle injury he suffered on international duty with Holland and concedes that he is still some way off peak fitness.
The former Ajax man believes the top-of-the-table clash at Stamford Bridge, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1, will show how far Liverpool have come this season as they look to mount a serious title challenge.
"We will see how far we are now," Babel told Sky Sports News. "We are a little bit unlucky we do not have everybody fit of course, even myself I am not 100 per cent like I am supposed to be.
"No excuses, we will see what happens on Sunday."
Babel is unsure if he will be included from the start against Chelsea, but he insists he is ready and willing to do whatever Rafa Benitez wants.
"I am not sure [about starting] but of course if the boss needs me I will be 100 per cent," added Babel.
Babel admits Liverpool will make the trip to West London full of confidence after an unbeaten start to the season and knows a win at Chelsea would give them an even bigger lift.
"I think as a group the confidence is very high at the moment and if you can win at Chelsea it would be a good boost and we will see what happens," concluded Babel.
Liverpool hero John Barnes, currently the manager of Jamaica and a pundit for the New Football Pools, told the Metro: "Chelsea may be playing the more fluent football but Liverpool are showing all their determination and spirit which is leading to great results.
"Luiz Felipe Scolari has got Chelsea playing some wonderful stuff but I have a feeling my old side will get a result.
"Liverpool are defensively strong and I can see them getting a point.
"It looks as though Fernando Torres will miss the game, which is a blow, but Liverpool are now starting to show they don't have to rely on Steven Gerrard and Torres to get results."
Sunday’s clash at Stamford Bridge pits the top two teams in the Premier League against each other, with both Chelsea and Liverpool having taken 20 points from eight games.
Liverpool have been in fine form both domestically and in Europe recently, and extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches with Wednesday night’s 1-1 Champions League draw against Atletico Madrid.
When it comes to unbeaten streaks though, Chelsea’s takes some beating, with the Blues not having a lost a league match at home in 86 fixtures.
Despite that, Bootle-born Evans, who managed Liverpool from 1994 to 1998 and is now an assistant to John Toshack with Wales, believes his old club can be the ones to end that run this weekend, even if he feels they are not yet firing an all cylinders.
“Somebody’s got to do it sometime and although Liverpool have not been playing at their very best they’ve been getting some really good results,” Evans said.
“What they have shown this year, and perhaps not in previous years, is a real spirit.
“If they go behind they’ve come back and won games, for example recently against Wigan and Man City, and they’ve also shown they can beat the top teams by beating Man United, which over the last few years they haven’t done.
“Chelsea, down at Stamford Bridge, is a difficult game, they are playing some great stuff but I just feel that if Liverpool go down there and play at their very best they can come away with a result.”
He added: “I think it will be 2-1 to Liverpool, although I am slightly biased!”
“It will be difficult game and Chelsea, even with their injuries, have looked a very good side so I don’t think it will be a walkover, but I think Liverpool can come away with a positive result.”
A bitterly disappointing evening in April saw Rafael Benitez’s side denied a third Champions League final appearance in four years by a 3-2 win for Chelsea after extra-time.
The teams cross swords for the first time since on Sunday in a meeting of the early Premier League pace-setters.
And while the immediate stakes may not be quite as high this time around, the fixture represents an opportunity for either side to post a significant marker in the championship race.
“What happened against Chelsea last season won’t have an influence on this game, I am sure of that,” says Xabi Alonso, who will be expected to pull the strings in midfield for Liverpool on Sunday.
“This is a different season, there are different players on both sides, a different manager at Chelsea and we can only focus on what happens during this game.
“We won’t prepare for this game thinking about the Champions League semi-final or by using that for extra motivation.
“I don’t think you can compare this game with what happened at Stamford Bridge last season. This is a new season and both teams have new targets to concentrate on and because of that, anything can happen on Sunday.”
Both teams are looking to protect an unbeaten start to the season with Liverpool having lost only four of their last 47 league games.
“We won’t be going to Stamford Bridge with any fear,” says Alonso. “We respect them as a very good side but we are confident in our own ability and we believe we can win.
“They have shown great form in recent weeks and we expect a tough game, but we go into every game expecting to win now and Sunday will be no different.”
Four of Liverpool’s six league wins have come after the Anfield outfit had fallen behind, but Alonso admits Benitez’s side cannot afford a similarly slow start on Sunday.
“What we cannot afford to do against Chelsea though is start as slowly as we have done in some games,” he says. “We need to concentrate fully for 90 minutes because the quality of their players means they can punish you at any time.
“Fernando Torres will be a big loss against Chelsea but we know we can manage the situation, we have to, and we have more strength in depth and more confidence now than we have had before.
“After the results we have had this season we are right to be confident.”
Liverpool edged a step nearer qualification from the group stages of the Champions League with a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night.
Robbie Keane’s early opener had looked set to earn the visitors victory until Anfield manager Benitez, with one eye on Sunday’s assignment, substituted Keane, Alonso and skipper Steven Gerrard and Atletico grabbed a late equaliser through Simao.
“We had a good 60 minutes against Atletico and we can take a lot of confidence from going to a difficult place like that and playing so well, but in the latter part of the game we did have a lot more problems,” says Alonso. “We were very pleased with how the first half had gone at half-time, we had managed the situation, we were in control of the game and we scored a good goal through Robbie.
“In the end we are disappointed with the draw but to be honest that was probably a fair result.”
Liverpool welcome Atletico on Tuesday week before entertaining Marseille, with two victories ensuring them top place with a game to spare.
But despite their strong position at the top of Group D – particularly given they had taken one point from nine at this stage of the competition last season – Keane reckons the Anfield outfit cannot rest on their laurels.
“We’ve got to be happy with where we are in the group because we’ve played three games, two of which have been away from home, and we’ve taken seven points,” says the Republic of Ireland international.
“We knew that Madrid would be a tough place to come to because Atletico are a good side, but we’ve managed to take a point which is definitely a good result.
“But there’s still work to be done. We know that and we have to focus now on the next game and not start thinking too far ahead.”
Keane’s goal was his second in successive Champions League games and, with Fernando Torres injured, the Irishman is expected to lead the line at Chelsea this weekend.
“It’s always nice to score, but it would have been even nicer if we’d managed to take the three points,” says the striker.
“Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be, but all in all we’ve got to be happy with a point because I suppose it could have gone either way. We had the better of things in the first half but they were always going to come out and have a go at us in the second, especially with their home crowd behind them, so I think a draw was a fair result.
“This is a great competition to be involved in and hopefully there’s still a lot more games to come for us.
“We can’t allow ourselves to become complacent or get too carried away. But, at the same time, we can be confident that we will go on to qualify.”
In an intervention that will be interpreted as a cynical vote-winning exercise rather than principled objection, five Merseyside MPs have joined forces to support the motion of Walton MP Peter Kilfoyle demanding that the government pressurize the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) into rejecting the Americans' request for a £350m loan.
Without the bank providing the loan, the tycoons' ownership of the Anfield club would be plunged into jeopardy with the credit crunch already causing long-established plans for stadium development to be downscaled and delayed.
Following the emergency £20bn bail-out funded by taxpayers' money, the government now holds a 60 per cent stake in RBS.
The youngster was part of the FA Youth Cup-winning set-up but has failed to grab a place in the senior squad.
Ince is also chasing Egyptian star Ahmed Al-Muhammadi, 21, as he looks to fill David Bentley's boots in January.
The versatile Al-Muhammadi, capped eight times, has been invited to Ewood Park for a week's training and talks.
None of them finished Wednesday night’s 1-1 Champions League draw at Atletico Madrid, with striker Keane and midfielder Alonso both struggling with knocks, and captain Gerrard suffering from fatigue.
It will not be known until later today how serious the problems are but Benitez is keeping his fingers crossed there is nothing too serious to worry about.
“The three players have had some problems,” said Benitez, whose side are locked at the top of the Barclays Premier League with Chelsea on 20 points.
“It was a little bit of a muscle problem for Robbie. Gerrard is okay. He was really tired and Alonso has a knock on his knee.”
Keane, who had given Liverpool a 14th-minute lead at the Vicente Calderon before Simao Sabrosa earned Atletico a point with a late equaliser, was the first to be taken off when he was replaced by Dirk Kuyt just after half-time.
“We need to check with Keane. I don’t think it will be serious, but anyway we need to take care of him. He will see the doctor,” Benitez said.
“We are trying to keep players with fresh legs and 100% fit, so we were trying to protect all of them.”
When asked if he had any fitness concerns for the clash with Chelsea, Benitez answered: “I don’t know now, we will have to wait for tomorrow.”
Gerrard was the next to make way, being replaced by Ryan Babel in the 61st minute, before Alonso left the action with 15 minutes to go, Lucas taking his place.
Eight minutes after Alonso’s departure, Atletico managed to equalise, but when asked if the change had played a part in the goal, Benitez insisted he had no choice but to replace the Spain international.
“I explained the reason already, he was injured and he was asking for the substitution,” he said.
Liverpool were without the services of star striker Fernando Torres for the match, with the former Atletico hero remaining in England to continue his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Benitez admits things might have turned out differently if the prolific forward had played, but preferred not to dwell on the subject.
“Obviously he’s a special player and it could have been a different match. But he was unavailable so it doesn’t matter. He couldn’t play,” he said.
Liverpool had been good value for their half-time lead at the Vicente Calderon after limiting Atletico to just a couple of half-chances in the opening period.
However, the Rojiblancos looked a much better side after the break following the arrival of star striker Sergio Aguero, who had started the game on the bench due to concerns about his fitness.
Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina admitted the young Argentinian helped turn the game around for the Spanish side.
“He is a tricky player who you notice when he is on the pitch because he causes a lot of problems and is difficult to stop,” said Reina.
“What is really important now is to get to 10 points and not slip up at home.”
Wednesday’s result leaves Atletico and Liverpool locked at the top of Group D with seven points from their opening three games, with the pair meeting again at Anfield on November 4.