Liverpool v Reading, FA Cup third round replay, January 13, 2010
Although neither of these two sides have played since the 1-1 draw on January 2 (14/1 to repeat that score), there has been no shortage of back page controversy involving Liverpool. Whilst Reading have been kicking their heels and wondering what might have been after failing to see off the Premier League side at the Madejski.
With Liverpoolâ€™s game against Spurs postponed one would have thought it would have been a quiet week off the field at Anfield. However, transfer moves involving Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel dominated, before Tom Hicks jr, son of co owner Tom Hicks, took center stage with his now infamous â€œBlow me, f***faceâ€ email.
During the mini winter break caused by the inclement weather in England, Rafa Benitez has also admitted for the first time that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres could leave the club. Intriguingly, for the oldest cup competition in the world, the Liverpool boss also said: â€œFinishing in the top four will help keep players happy and so will progressing in the FA Cup and Europa League. If we are playing well and winning that will help the squad stick together.” (Liverpool are 9/4 to finish in the Top Four.)
After such a woeful first half of the season and with Manchester City now looking favourites to clinch fourth position in the Premier League (City are EVS to finish in the Top Four), Liverpool are under real pressure. Anfield is not the happy place it once was and despite the fact that the Merseyside giants are likely to put out a strong team, if things donâ€™t go Liverpoolâ€™s way early doors, Reading could yet spring a cup shock. (Reading are 9/4 to qualify from the tie.)
Benitez played a strong side at Reading in the first game and we can expect to see the big names rolled out again against the Royals. Steven Gerrard, who scored in the first game and Fernando Torres could even be joined by Alberto Aquilani who is still trying to find his feet at Liverpool since his summer move from Roma. (Liverpool are 21/20 to fail to score in both halves.)
The only concern for Liverpoolâ€™s Spanish manager is the early Premier League kick off at Stoke on Saturday but Benitez will be hoping to wrap up the match early doors and give the big names a rest.
Whether it is plain sailing for Reading depends on whether the Championship side bring their league form into the encounter or play as they did in the first match between the two sides.
Caretaker boss Brian McDermott is expected to name the same side after Readingâ€™s match with Newcastle was called off and they will be hoping for Simon Church to get amongst the goals again alongside target man Grzegorz Rasiak. (Reading are 24/1 to score in both halves.) Goalkeeper Adam Federici could be busy and he will be looking to impress after he was linked with a move to Liverpool last week.
The Royals have won just five games all season out of 24 in the league but were much the better team in the first match, evoking memories of when they showed no fear in the Premier League under Steve Coppell.
Brian McDermott outlined how he expects his side to play: â€œThe key for me is that we put in another good performance like the other night, we did in the first game at our place and we need to go up there and play with the same level of intensity and desire.â€
Such is the confidence of many Liverpool players and the mood around the once great club, that Reading have a real chance of completing a cupset on Wednesday night. Incredibly, these sides have only played each other seven times in the Premier League and the two cup competitions with Liverpool emerging victorious five times. This match however could well go the wire (8/5 to be under 2.5 goals) as the season from hell at Anfield continues.
101gg predicts: Liverpool 2 â€“ Reading 1 (10/1)
Full match odds here.