Old Boys do Battle
14th October 2006
Blackburn Rovers make the 40 mile trip to Liverpool in a bid to continue their fine recent form and end a ten year wait for a Premiership victory against a team from the red half of Merseyside; but they will have to contend with out of sorts ex-striker, Craig Bellamy.
Rovers have not beaten Liverpool in a league fixture since November 3rd 1996 when two goals from Chris Sutton and a strike from Jason Wilcox gave Rovers a three-nil victory.
It has been even longer since Rovers took three points from Anfield; September 12th 1993 was Rovers last, and only Premiership away win against Liverpool, Mike Newell the goal scoring hero that day.
Rovers` fans will no doubt feel that this is as good an opportunity as any to rectify that poor record. Rovers remain unbeaten in six games in the league and UEFA Cup but will have to score at least once at Anfield, something they haven`t done since 2002. On the other hand Liverpool`s form is like their starting line-up; hard to pick, disjointed and terribly inconsistent.
However, at home they are a different prospect. Whilst their form does continue to fluctuate they remain solid at fortress Anfield. They have won their opening three league fixtures with a water-tight defence and more potency up-front.
It was expected summer signing from Rovers, Craig Bellamy, would help provide a cutting edge to the Liverpool attack but despite scoring on his debut in the Champions League, he has been decidedly blunt.
He is likely to start and will be looking to beat a former Anfield reject, Brad Friedel. This will undoubtedly provide one of the most intriguing and key battles on the day. Both teams will be in search of goals having enjoyed an abundance of them recently.
However, Rovers will be hoping to stem Liverpool`s flow and may call upon another ex-Liverpool favourite, Stephane Henchoz to make his second Rovers debut.
Both results finished 1-0 to Liverpool last season with Rovers on the wrong-end of some very harsh and poor referring decisions.
Benni McCarthy on Rovers: "The people that doubted this team and underestimated their potential and quality are now beginning to see the real Blackburn. We are definitely a top ten team- I think on Saturday we are going to show that."
Mark Hughes on Craig Bellamy: "I could see he was very proud as a Welshman to lead his country and I think that showed in his performance as well. He worked extremely hard to get his goal but we hope that will be his goal for the week and he can miss out at the weekend.
"There are many cases of guys who have left a club, returned and scored- we hope that's not going to be the case with Craig Bellamy. Obviously Craig leaving was a blow to us when it happened."
Rafa Benitez on Kuyt: "Dirk`s injury isn`t that bad. We can`t say when he will be able to play, but he returned on Tuesday and had more treatment."
Liverpool Team News:
Liverpool will be without Dirk Kuyt who picked up an injury whilst on international duty. It is also likely Robbie Fowler will be missing so Peter Crouch is Craig Bellamy`s expected partner.
They also have concerns over the fitness of Momo Sissoko, whilst Daniel Agger has his hand in plaster.
Rafa Benitez is expected to rotate his side again.
Liverpool (from): Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Aurelio, Luis Garcia, Gerrard, Alonso, Pennant, Zenden, Crouch, Bellamy, Gonzalez, Warnock, Dudek, Paletta, Agger.
Player to watch: Craig Bellamy
Rovers` fans and players know all about Craig Bellamy and his precocious talent, even if his current employers don`t.
He is without a Premiership goal so far this season and despite some glimpses of quality has looked average at best. However, Rovers players will know not to make light of his current plight as his explosive pace and quick thinking can have deadly affect.
He will be particularly keen to find the back of the net against his former team in a bid to elevate Liverpool above Rovers in the league and prove that he made the right decision by leaving Rovers behind.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
The gravest concern facing Mark Hughes is the fitness of Brad Friedel. He was replaced at half-time against Wigan after pulling his groin. He is set to undertake a 'kicking test` on Friday to assess the state of his injury. If he is deemed unfit, penalty hero Jason Brown is ready to deputise.
Ryan Nelsen and Steven Reid continue to be absent but Hughes now has all five strikers fully fit to choose from. It is likely to be a case of who will partner Benni McCarthy after Shabani Nonda and Jason Roberts returned from knocks.
There are also mild concerns over the fitness of both Australian internationals, Brett Emerton and Lucas Neill, who both returned from international duty on Friday. They will have late fitness tests.
Blackburn (from): Friedel, Neill, Khizanishvili, Tugay, Emerton, Savage, Bentley, Nonda, McCarthy, Pedersen, Mokoena, Jeffers, Gallagher, Ooijer, Brown, Gray, Peter, McEveley, Roberts.
Player to watch: Lucas Neill
If he is deemed to be fully fit then it will be interesting to watch his performance against the side that he almost joined and has expressed an interest in.
Neill has been playing some of the best football of his career in recent weeks after comments stating his desire to leave the club at the end of his contract. However, the performance at Anfield, where he is vociferously booed and jeered, will be closely watched by the Rovers faithful to see if the same level of performance is maintained.
Match Facts & Stats
This is Rovers` 2,500th game in the top flight.
This is currently Rovers` best start since the 1997/1998 season.
Rovers have already received 20 cards this season with only Middlesbrough earning more yellow cards, 19, to Rovers 18.
Robbie Savage is the only Rovers player to play every league minute this season.
If he starts, this will be Brett Emerton`s 100th start in a Rovers shirt.
Liverpool have not dropped a point at home since a draw with Charlton on March 4 2006.
Liverpool have won 17 of their last 19 games at home.
Jose Reina is the only Liverpool player to play every league minute for Liverpool this season.
Rovers have already received 18 yellow cards this season and it is likely more will be dished out be Mark Clattenburg. He has already refereed a Rovers game this season having helped Chelsea to an unconvincing 2-0 win at Ewood Park. Again Rovers face one of the 'big teams` with Clattenburg in charge so it is unlikely we will be receiving any favours from the officials.
This will be a tightly contested affair. Liverpool did very well last season restricting Rovers attacking options however; they will have to face a completely new attack without a regular back-four. The threat of Bellamy against his former club and having scored for Wales at the weekend will prove too much for Rovers` slow defence. He will score his first league goal of the campaign in this fixture but won`t be on the winning side. Rovers have demonstrated a new found resolve in recent weeks and confidence is very high at the club. Goals are now flying in from all positions and they are moving the ball around very well. With Benitez likely to rotate his side again and rest a number of his international stars Rovers will equal their best ever result at Anfield and win 3-1. Bellamy`s goal will only serve as a consolation as Rovers condemn Liverpool to only their second home defeat in 30 fixtures. Rovers will win a fourth league game on the trot for the first time since 2004 courtesy of our strikers` red-hot form.
Wisla Krakow on Thursday 19th October in Krakow, Poland.