The Battle For Fourth Place?
Six-hour flights to Doha, 15,000 riot police marshaling stadia, and the hand of Henry sending the Irish dancing back to Dublin were just some of the main talking points of a frenetic and controversial, international break.
Football players and fans will be thankful to return to the normality of domestic football.
The most intriguing clash of the weekend undoubtedly will be at Anfield, where fifth meets sixth as Liverpool look to leapfrog Manchester City and move into fourth—if only temporarily.
It has been described as the "battle for fourth place;" a title which would presumably irk Rafa Benitez after the Reds came so close to winning an elusive Premier League title last campaign, but have stumbled over most hurdles this season.
Indeed, in their current plight, securing the final Champions League spot is a more realistic target than knocking Sir Alex Ferguson of his lofty perch.
Mark Hughes will be desperate to halt City’s current, cumbersome sequence of stalemates. After enjoying a successful start to the season, City have stalled in recent weeks, culminating in a frustrating 3-3 draw with Burnley at the Eastlands.
The trip to Liverpool provides the likes of Adebayor and Tevez with an ideal opportunity to cement the European ambitions of their employers.
Benitez has struggled to come to terms with a lengthy list of casualties in recent weeks, but he expects to have some of his big guns returning for this crucial league game. Steven Gerrard is fresh and raring to go, which will provide the manager, the players, and fans with renewed optimism as the club look to resurrect their season.
Questions will be rightly raised over the fitness of some of Manchester City’s players. Barry, Bridge, Lescott, and Wright-Phillips made the 10,000-mile round trip to Doha and played in England’s defeat to Brazil. Liverpool will be looking to capitalize on any fatigue shown.
Mark Hughes has plenty of depth to choose from should he opt to rest these key players, but he will want his strongest unit present to defeat an out-of-sorts Anfield outfit.
The tenacious Gareth Barry will be looking to flaunt his unquestionable talent in front of the Kop, reminding the Reds what could have been.
He’ll need to pass a fitness test on a troublesome groin.
The smart money will be placed on the home side. Liverpool perform best under pressure and Benitez will hope to replicate their outstanding performance against United a few weeks back.
Ultimately, Hughes would be content to settle for a sixth consecutive draw, but Benitez will recognize that, after a less than satisfactory result against Birmingham a fortnight ago, a win is imperative.
The Spaniard said: “Maybe we can start the season right now. Winning against City will boost everyone and if that happens I am sure we will see the best of the team.”
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