Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Welcome Break for Rafa's Men

By Gareth Freeman

Getting beat by Everton in the FA Cup could even be seen as a blessing in disguise come May. I know what you’re thinking, losing to the blue half of Merseyside is never a good thing but with the mid-week international fixtures and then the FA Cup at the weekend Rafa’s side don’t play again until February 22 when they face Man City.

With a relatively small squad and a shortage of strikers this break could be a vital boost for Benitez’s tiring side. The win at Portsmouth came at just the right time and kept the pressure on Manchester United, who didn’t look that convincing in their narrow 1-0 victory over West Ham.

Surprisingly there are no Liverpool players in the England squad that take on Spain on February 11, there are however, five Reds in the Spanish squad. Reina, Arbeloa, Alonso, Riera and of course Fernando Torres are all included in the line-up but as it is a friendly I don’t expect them all to play a full 90 minutes. Torres in particular has been struggling with fatigue and I expect him to play a part for Spain but I doubt whether Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque will risk injuring his star-striker.

Added to that the Spanish coach has chosen an in-form team rather than stuck with familiar names and he may wish to use Daniel Guiza and Fernando Llorente in attack at some point. Guiza plays for Fenerbache in Turkey so I imagine del Bosque will want to see how he links up with a squad who are in the vast majority based in Spain (or all play together at Liverpool). Llorente is a target man kind of striker and has only been capped once by Spain, the Athletic Bilbao forward has been in fine form this season and I expect del Bosque to utilize him at some point, which should allow Torres a rest.

The fact that Liverpool will enjoy the weekend off after the international fixtures should help Rafa rest his tired squad. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Aston Villa will all have players involved in internationals and then face tricky FA Cup ties. Chelsea travel to Watford, Manchester United face Derby at Pride Park, Arsenal take on Cardiff at home and Aston Villa take on Everton. None of these ties will be easy and with the size of Liverpool’s squad a break from a hectic fixture list could not have come at a better time.

I’m going to end with a few football betting picks. I tend to avoid friendly matches when betting as, in my opinion, it becomes very hard to predict and you never know what side the managers will put out. There are a few World Cup Qualifiers though and I expect the Republic of Ireland - who have still not lost under Giovanni Trapattoni - to beat Georgia, while Northern Ireland should easily see of San Marino away. My final football betting tip for you would be to back the draw in the Arsenal Vs Cardiff FA Cup tie on Monday 16 February. Arsene Wenger’s side have faltered lately and I expect him to field a fairly weakened team in light of the fact they have fallen quite a way off the Champions League places in the Premier League and Wenger knows how important qualification to the prestigious tournament is.

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