LONDON: Liverpool’s American owners fly in to London ahead of the FA Cup sem-final against Everton with a lesson in Mersey derby fervour coming up on Saturday and a mixture of sporting and commercial emotions beyond it.
John W Henry and Tom Werner from Fenway Sports Group have learned enough about English football in the past year to know that while the clubs’ fans demand trophy-winning pride the accountants demand a Champions League presence.
Liverpool have won the League Cup since the legendary Kenny Dalglish’s return to the helm and to win the FA Cup as well – for the eighth time in all but first since 2006 – would look good in the record books.
But the league statistics tell a far more depressing tale. Indeed, if positions were decided on form since January then Liverpool would be in the relegation zone. Tuesday’s dramatic, almost comical, 3-2 win away to struggling Blackburn was only Liverpool’s first success in five league outings.
That they remain in the Premier top half is due more to the failings of the teams around them than to their own qualities.
Dalglish is fond of saying: “We take everything one game at a time.” Winning Saturday’s game could thus buy him significant time before he has to set a written report before Henry and Werner to explain where the season went right and where, and why, it went wrong.
The two semi-finals present a string of complexities. Liverpool are playing on Saturday because they refuse to play on April 15 which is the anniversary of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, also in an FA Cup semi-final.
Thus Sunday at Wembley will see out-of-form, collapsing Tottenham face a Chelsea side who will probably put out a deliberately weakened team to rest the seniors ahead of next week’s Champions League test against Barcelona and the magical Messi.
As for the Mersey derby, Liverpool are in the unusual position of being underdogs.
Everton are the form team with four wins in their last five games in all competitions and Liverpool will have to field Australian Brad Jones, their third-choice goalkeeper, after the suspensions of Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni. Reina is serving out a three-game ban for a headbutt while Doni was sent off early in Tuesday’s win over Blackburn.
Jones came off the bench to save a penalty from his old Middlesbrough team-mate Ayeigbeni Yakubu. Liverpool subsequently conceded a two-goal lead earned by quick-fire early strikes from Maxi Rodriguez but snatched a last-minute winner through Andy Carroll.
The £35m misfit could not have chosen a better moment to score his first Liverpool goal since February and repay a little of the faith Dalglish has invested in him – in defiance of all the off-form, off-target evidence – since January last year.
That could be one positive point for Dalglish’s end-of-term report.
Reaching the FA Cup Final would be another.
** Liverpool are seeking to recall Peter Gulacsi from his loan spell at Hull to ease their goalkeeping crisis. The Hungarian would be available for Wembley duty after not having been selected for either of Hull’s’ two FA Cup ties.
The 21-year-old has made 15 Championship [second division] appearances for the East Yorkshire outfit.
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