Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is in the midst of his first crisis since his return to Anfield 12 months ago as he his sides faces their biggest game of the season to date.
While 2012 is still relatively new and the term crisis is a slight exaggeration, there are still problems inside the gates of Anfield with the Scot yet to see his side win a league game so far this year.
Dalglish is also struggling to fill the void left by the suspension of Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll’s struggles in front of goal a weekly topic for most journalists and bloggers.
So far this transfer window a deal for the much coveted striker that the fans crave has yet to materialise, the inept nil all draw with Stoke, in between three goal defeats to Wednesday Visitors City and Bolton, doing little to hide the inefficiencies of the Liverpool attack.
Thankfully it’s not been all doom and gloom as the cup competition has provided a welcome reprieve from the chase for fourth spot and while there is an all important FA Cup fourth round tie with Manchester United to come this Saturday, first up is the equally important Carling Cup semi final against the other Manchester side, City.
Liverpool will head into the game with a narrow 1-0 lead, Steve Gerrard’s first half penalty giving the Reds a slender advantage in what was the quintessential game of two halves. A superb first half saw Liverpool control and take the game to City, with the second half showing why exactly City are the top of the table as they did everything but score.
Much like their previous two meetings in January Liverpool will have the added benefit of an extra rest, their 3-1 loss to Bolton taking place 24 hours before City’s exciting 3-2 win over fellow challengers Tottenham.
Additional rest days, aside trend heading into the game controversy that has overshadowed results, the controversial sending off of Vincent Kompany proving to be an interesting side show ahead of the first leg with Mario Balotelli’s did he mean it/ was it accidental stamp on Scott Parker, leading to more bad headlines and a FA charge for the impotent Italian.
However City have been there before this season and coped admirably, the management skills of Roberto Mancini showing him to be one of the best as taken the heat off his players.
Unless City make an appeal on the charge Balotelli will miss out on this game of course with Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri who is finding his feet in a blue shirt, David Silva and Edin Dzeko all available, Mancini does not share Dalglish’s concerns up front.
The middle of defence and midfield are more of a worry with brothers Yaya & Kolo Toure (African nations Cup and Vincent Kompany (suspended) all still missing
Liverpool meanwhile will be without Jay Spearing, Lucas and the suspended Suarez meaning all eyes once again will be on the Steven Gerrard / Andy Carroll pairing.
Craig Bellamy should start after his impressive form of late. The Welsh man scored his 5th league of the season in the loss to the Trotters and was perhaps, Gerrard aside, the only member of the squad to escape Dalglish’s criticisms at the weekend.
Liverpool won’t play as bad as they did on Saturday while City will be keen to reach their first cup final of the domestic season and lay down a marker for the rest of the league. If Liverpool falls into the trap of the defensive approach that dominated the second half display at the Etihad then City could run rampage however like Bolton that too is unlikely.