Friday, 6 February 2009

Rafa hamstrung by attacking options

Liverpool's Premier League title aspirations nosedived yesterday when it was revealed that skipper and talisman Steven Gerrard will be out for three weeks because of a hamstring tear.

The Anfield powerhouse cut a dejected figure when, to the delight of euphoric Everton supporters, he limped out of his side's demoralising FA Cup defeat to cross-city rivals Everton after just 16 minutes.

The 28-year-old will miss England's international friendly next Wednesday against Spain but the repercussions for Liverpool could be a lot worse.

The midfielder is now a doubt for the club's next two Premier League games against Portsmouth and Manchester City and is a genuine worry for the first leg of Liverpool's Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid, which is due to take place at the Bernabeu on February 25.

His absence will again raise doubts about manager Rafael Benitez's decision to allow striker Robbie Keane to re-join Tottenham on transfer-deadline day for £12million – just six months after spending £20million to prise him from White Hart Lane.

The Spaniard aimed a veiled swipe at Keane by suggesting he never delivered on the big stage at Anfield, although cyncis may argue this was a clever ploy by Benitez to deflect some of the attention off him.

The debate will rage on but the loss of Gerrard, so often the saviour, cannot be underestimated.

Of the 40 goals scored this season by Liverpool's starting line-up at Goodison Park, 23 had arrived courtesy of skipper Gerrard and principal striker Fernando Torres, who has yet to reach top gear after his recent injury lay-off.

Between them they have amassed 77 goals in 19 months as team-mates but Benitez is optimistic he has the support cast to fill the void.

"We have Kuyt, Babel, Ngog and if we need them also Nemeth or Pacheco. Nabil and Benayoun can also play as second strikers. If you need to change and to use different players we can do it," he reasoned.

The proof will come on Saturday when Liverpool will be expected to extend Portsmouth's winless run to nine games.

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