When Liverpool last played Arsenal at Anfield there was a massive feel good factor around the place but Sunday’s live TV match could be the end of the road for Brendan Rodgers. Manchester City could gain more ground on Chelsea at the top of the table as their match against Crystal Palace at the Etihad looks a home banker while Chelsea play at Stoke. The live schedule also features the north-east derby between Newcastle and Sunderland.
Last season Liverpool beat Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford but the scores were reversed in this season’s fixture which highlighted the weaknesses throughout the whole Liverpool team. United were nothing special and David de Gea was man of the match. However, Liverpool looked a club in crisis and even Steven Gerrard could not raise his game. It might be time to move on for the talisman captain as he now won’t win the Premier League with his beloved team.
In February Liverpool beat Arsenal 5-1 in the corresponding fixture. At that time they were right in the mix to win the league title for the first time in 24 years. Gerrard’s life long sporting ambition was about to be realised and he still had the World Cup to look forward to in the summer. It all went horribly wrong on both fronts and Gerrard has since retired from international football. His playing days at Liverpool could be coming to an end and a move to MLS in the States is one of his options.
Liverpool’s owners see qualifying for the Champions League as a minimum requirement and that goal can be achieved by finishing in the top four in the league or winning the Europa League. The latter scenario is now the best route so Rodgers must take the competition seriously. There could be a unique situation in which he rests players in the league to focus on Europe. Liverpool have the numbers to cope with a Thursday-Sunday schedule but clearly not the quality.
Liverpool have a transfer committee but Rodgers will get he blame. The word is that a player will only be bought if Rodgers says so which means he can’t hide from the fact that he is responsible for the arrival of Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli. Lambert has played for most of his career in the lower leagues for a reason and Balotelli was a 16 million risk that was not worth taking. For Suarez and Sturridge read Lambert and Balotelli and that comparison will ultimately cost Rodgers his job.
In the absence of a striker scoring regularly Rodgers is playing Raheem Sterling alone up front. He was prolific as an academy player and scored 10 times last season. If he had taken some of his chances against United Rodgers would have made the right decision. Much was made of De Gea being man of the match but in truth only one of his saves was exceptional. Given the openings that Sterling had Wayne Rooney would have taken home the match ball on Sunday.
By the time Liverpool play Arsenal they could have lost away to Bournemouth in the Capital One Cup. Two defeats in these key matches could see Rodgers being the first Premier League manager to be sacked this season. I just hope Mrs Rodgers has bought the turkey and all the trimmings because her husband could be out of work on the 25th. If not the inevitable would only be delayed as clearly Rodgers will not be in charge this time next year as he has turned out to be the turkey.
In the context of who wins the Premier League the match at Anfield has little bearing. Chelsea or Manchester City will be the champions this season despite United putting together a run that will not be enough to get them in contention. Even if Louis Van Gaal keeps winning both sides above his team will not drop the points to give United an opening. If results pan out in their favour City could be at the top of the league on Monday evening.
Palace are currently 16th in the league and would take that position at the end of the season. Staying in the Premier League is their goal and there are several poorer teams below them. However, losing matches over the busy holiday programme could see them get embroiled in relegation issues. They could not start the spell with a tougher match than away to City. They almost finished in the top 10 last season but this campaign is like the difficult second album.
There is never a good time to play City away but there will be no Sergio Aguero or Vincent Kompany in their side. For a team that could not stop scoring this time last year they suddenly look limited up front and James Milner may play as the main striker against Palace. City cannot afford to drop points and a home win will then ask Chelsea a question in their Monday night match at Stoke.
The Potters look destined for mid-table safety and for a club with their budget and resources that would be a fine achievement. They are seen as being over-physical and one dimensional but those assets are not enough to stay in the Premier League. Much was made of Arsenal at Stoke last week but the home side were good enough to take advantage. That fixture was followed by two matches that Arsenal won 4-1 so the form is of some value.
Mark Hughes is the manager of Stoke and he has played for Chelsea and been the boss at City. That brings in many divided loyalties and he was also a big hero at Old Trafford and United are his first love. He would never be so undiplomatic to say but he probably wants United to win the league especially as he was sacked by City. Winning the match for Stoke is now his only concern but the irony is in doing so he would hand the initiative to City who for several reasons he has no affection.
In terms of no love lost the rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland takes some beating. Newcastle is the biggest city in England with only one team so the match with Sunderland is their local derby. Jack Colback moved to United from Sunderland and the stick and abuse he gets will show the antipathy between the supporters. He can get on with the match and help Newcastle win the Tyne and Weir derby.