POMPEY PREVIEW : ANOTHER FAILURE TO BEAT AVRAM GRANT COULD LEAVE LIVERPOOL’S SEASON ON A KNIFE EDGE
By Phil Dickinson.
Liverpool go into their Monday night clash with bottom club Portsmouth knowing that defeat could leave the club in meltdown ahead of an ominous trip to Old Trafford. With the weekend’s papers rife with talk of Benitez’s impending exit, the pressure is on the Anfield outfit to end to a disappointing run of results that threatens to derail the club’s hopes of salvaging their season.
But despite the black clouds gathering over Stanley Park, Liverpool remain strong favourites to overcome south coast strugglers, Portsmouth, who are still battling against financial collapse and await an imminent 9 point deduction for going into administration.
The Reds are unbeaten at home in the league since a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal back in December and Portsmouth have not managed a win at Anfield since August 1951. But, with Tottenham and Manchester City ahead in the table and Aston Villa in close attendance with games in hand, avoiding defeat might not be enough for Benitez’s men, who have not beaten a team managed by Avram Grant in 5 previous attempts.
Benitez has already identified the threat that Portsmouth pose, describing the Premier League’s bottom club as having, “nothing to lose”.
“At home against bottom team Portsmouth people will not just want a win, but a lot of goals.
“If we play well, 1-0 would be fantastic. You just have to win. It is an important week and Portsmouth have nothing to lose, so they are dangerous.”
Undoubtedly, Benitez will see a victory as more than just 3 absolutely vital points. It will be the team’s last opportunity to regroup and rebuild its confidence ahead of Lille’s visit to Anfield and next weekend’s trip to Old Trafford. The blow of not claiming a convincing win against a team doomed to relegation could condemn Liverpool to an embarrassing European exit and a goal difference crushing defeat at the hands of bitter rivals, Manchester United. Liverpool fans will instead be hoping that a win by a 2 or 3 goal margin will be the springboard for comfortably booking a place in the next round of the Europa League and a performance at Old Trafford that might be capable of shocking the United title push.
Portsmouth’s may be doomed to Championship football next season, but they pose more of a threat than most team that find themselves rooted to the foot of the Premier League. They’re a strong, athletic team who have shown a lot of spirit and fight since Avram Grant took over, despite repeatedly not being paid and despite complete boardroom meltdown behind the scenes. Even before Grant took over, Pompey succumbed to some unfortunate defeats, defeats that didn’t quite match the levels of effort the team were putting in. There’s no doubt that if Liverpool fail to apply themselves, Portsmouth will make it an uncomfortable evening for Reds fans.
Liverpool will also be out to avenge a 2-0 defeat at Fratton Park earlier this season, a game in which the Reds pitifully collapsed after Javier Mascherano received a straight red card for a tackle on Pompey’s Tal Ben Haim. The memory of that sorry display, one of their worst this campaign, should alone stave off complacency.
Glen Johnson will continue his comeback from the knee injury which has kept him out since the end of last year, while Yossi Benayoun should be fit after recovering from a knock which forced him to miss the game away at Lille. Benitez’s only other long-term injury problems are Fabio Aurélio (thigh) and Martin Skrtel (foot). January signing, Maxi Rodriguez again returns after being ineligible for the Europa League tie.
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