Liverpool v Portsmouth, Premier League, March 15, 2010
Defeats at Wigan and Lille, both by the same scoreline (1-0) contributed to another forgettable week for Liverpool and their beleaguered boss Rafa Benitez. The visit of rock-bottom Pompey heralds another crucial seven days with the return leg against Lille on Thursday and then a massive trip to Old Trafford next Sunday.
Incredibly, and this might come as a shock, Liverpool have not won a Premier League match under Rafa Benitez on a Monday night. Surely, this record will be broken against a Portsmouth team that looks destined for Championship football next season. (Draw/Liverpool is 4.58.)
Tottenhamâ€™s win over Blackburn on Saturday means the race for fourth looks a little more bleak for Liverpool. Nevertheless, Rafa Benitez remains confident: â€œIt is clear we cannot lose too many points so we have to start winning, beginning with this game. We know every game has to be like this but we have to have a good mentality to approach games in this way.â€
After recent games it would be no surprise if this was a turgid match in which Pompey have their chances to deepen the gloom at Anfield. A decent run in the league in the second half of January and the Merseyside derby win over Everton had looked to put Liverpool back on track but still there is a reliance on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard who simply arenâ€™t firing. (2.07 to be under 2.5 goals, 1.62 to be over.)
The defeat at the DW Stadium last Monday was one of the nadirs of the campaign as Liverpool struggled to pass competently and whilst they could have got more from their trip to Lille, the result leaves them on a tightrope for the second match against the French side.
Yossi Benayoun is the main fitness doubt for Liverpool, with Maxi Rodriguez expected to return to the first team after he was ineligible in the Europa League. Glen Johnsonâ€™s return should add a bit more thrust down the right hand side and surely Torres will get on the scoresheet for the first time in three matches, especially after calling for more signings on Saturday.
Portsmouth meanwhile will be looking to repeat their heroics of December when they saw off the Merseyside giants 2-0 at Fratton Park. Nadir Belhadj and Frederic Piquionne were the scorers that day and they will be danger men for Liverpool to be wary of. If Avram Grantâ€™s side were to eke out a victory it would be their first at Anfield since August 1951.
The last week at Pompey has, as seems regular these days, been fraught with bleak financial news. 85 employees were sacked and on Friday Peter Storrie left his position as chief executive of the club. There has though been plenty of fight on the pitch in recent weeks, most notably the FA Cup quarter final victory over Birmingham and the away league win at Burnley â€“ a victory at Liverpool would mark the first time they have secured back-to back away wins since December 2007.
Steve Finnan returns to his former club as does keeper David James who will be aiming to impress in his bid for a World Cup spot. Jamie Oâ€™Hara has looked like another danger man for much of the season and the likes of Peter Utaka and Aruna Dindane should be looking to perform well as they aim to secure new clubs for next season.
Kevin-Prince Boateng is still out with a long term injury but Aaron Mokoena and Anthony Vanden Borre return from lay-offs. Avram Grant may well be forced to go with attacking formations for the rest of the campaign as Pompey need wins and this could leave gaps at the back for Torres, Kuyt, Gerrard and co.
Liverpoolâ€™s season may well have lurched from one disaster to another but a defeat to Portsmouth, at home, before such an important week is inconceivable. It wonâ€™t be pretty but Rafa Benitez should be a little more hopeful of seeing off Lille and Manchester United once Pompey are dispatched.
101gg predicts: Liverpool 3 â€“ Portsmouth 0 (7.57)