Kidney stones have destroyed Liverpool’s season. The Reds were top of the league and looking steady until those little blighters struck Rafa Benitez, leaving him unable to manage his team from the sidelines. Instead, the goateed Spaniard was holed up at home with only his paranoia and a copy of Microsoft Word to keep him company. Every blink of the cursor brought about a new worry, and to cut a long story short, Benitez did what every person gradually-becoming insane would do. He regaled a vicious diatribe to open-mouthed hacks at a press conference, slating the chasing Manchester United and Alex Ferguson. As for now, Benitez finds himself possibly more uncomfortable than when he had kidney stones as he currently resides right where Ferguson wants him. Notably, below his side in the league. And that’s where we come in, because despite all our internal strife we somehow find ourselves in second place, albeit on goal difference, and facing a trip to Ragin’ Rafa’s Anfield this Sunday.
Two goals from WWE fan Salomon Kalou on Wednesday sent Middlesbrough crashing to the mat and with Mido bagging an equaliser for Wigan against Liverpool with little under ten minutes to play, the night was ours. An added bonus was the clean sheet which came with the win, with no set-piece goals conceded for the first time since…well, a long time. Liverpool have also shown similar vulnerabilities in recent weeks – just ask Tim Cahill – while a quick look at the stats reveals a slight problem at the other end. At Anfield, they have only scored 17 goals in 11 games, less than 16th placed Newcastle have at St James’ Park and only one more than bottom of the table West Brom who have netted 16 at the Hawthorns. Meanwhile, our away record reads eight wins, two draws and one defeat, with a hefty 23 goals scored and only six conceded – three of which came in Manchester United’s 3-0 win over us.
They say you can use statistics to prove everything – just ask Benitez…well, not quite – so I’ll return to the facts. With no real injuries to worry about, Liverpool should be able to field their strongest eleven. What that is, very few people know however. Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres were both substituted in the mid-week game, with the latter apparently looking out-of-sorts and unfit, but should start on Sunday. Dirk Kuyt missed his first league game of the season on Wednesday having run his legs off in every other match but should be in line for a return.
Chelsea will be without Ricardo Carvalho again as he still has not recovered from a hamstring strain, bringing back terrible memories of a starting line-up at Anfield not too long ago featuring Paulo Ferreira and Michael Essien as a centre-back partnership. Thank goodness for squad depth, and thank goodness for Alex…ok, so maybe I went too far. Other than the Portuguese defender, Luis Felipe Scolari is only missing long-term injury victims Essien and Joe Cole.
The match at the Bridge earlier this season saw Liverpool end our unbeaten home record and, in some fans’ opinions, kick-off the rot which is only just beginning to make itself scarce. Now, it’s Liverpool with an impressive record (undefeated in the league at Anfield since December 2007) ready to be dashed, starting a full-blown crisis in the process. Well, we can hope anyway.
Of course, if Liverpool and Chelsea do what they do best in games against each other – draw dismally and soul-destroyingly in a manner which makes de-worming a cat seem interesting – then it is well and truly advantage Manchester United. But instead of thinking about that, cast your mind back to October 2005. Frank Lampard scores a penalty, Gerrard bags an equaliser, but Damien Duff grabs a second for the Blues just before half-time. After the break, Joe Cole sends Chelsea fans into delirium, before the ludicrous becomes the feasible as Geremi scores a fourth. Liverpool one, Chelsea four, at Anfield.
Ok, so lightning probably won’t strike twice, but we can dream. And if Benitez thought kidney stones were bad, just wait for the reaction of thousands of angry Scousers on Sunday evening if the Blues march out of Anfield triumphant once again. This could be the game of the season, or merely a damp squib, but when the final whistle blows we will know exactly where we are and what we need to do. Turning point of the season? No way. It’s much more than that.