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In Spain, the sports papers refer to the exodus of players during international weeks as the ‘FIFA virus’ and it will be interesting to see if Spanish Liverpool can cope with its effects this weekend.
To recap, Liverpool were in spectacular form before the latest interruption to the domestic season, banging in 13 goals in three games against Real Madrid in the Champions League and Manchester United and Aston Villa in the Premier League.
The international break could not have come at a worse time for coach Rafa Benitez. Sure, there was more good news on Friday as the club announced captain Steven Gerrard had signed a contract extension that will tie him to the club until 2013 but the euphoric mood will be punctured if they do not win away at Fulham on Saturday.
Victory in that game would put them top for at last one night as United, who hold a one-point lead with a game in hand, are not in action until they host Villa on Sunday.
Well, at least we now know it wasn’t an April Fool’s Day joke… Alan Shearer has been confirmed as Newcastle manager for the final eight matches of the season.
He faces a Herculean task in keeping Newcastle up and with no managerial experience to his name the odds must be against him.
It sounds like an April Fool’s joke but apparently it’s true: Alan Shearer looks set to be confirmed as caretaker manager of Newcastle United until the end of the season.
Now, Newcastle could certainly do with a touch of inspiration as they bid to preserve the top flight status they have held since winning promotion back to the top tier in 1993.
The phrase, if you are interested, was used for many years to describe the passion for football in the region before a scholarly book by reknowned journalist Arthur Appleton “Hotbed of Soccer – the story of football in the North East” was published in 1960 and told a mainly successful story.
Liverpool reopened the Premier League title race with a 5-0 win over Aston Villa that must have thrilled Anfield, while leaving fans wondering why they haven’t seen similar displays all season.
This was exactly the sort of performance the occasion cried out for. Manchester United’s 2-0 defeat at Fulham, following on from the Old Trafford debacle, had left the door ajar, and Liverpool duly barged it open with another display of absolute self-belief.
So, here we go again. For the fifth successive season, Liverpool will face Chelsea in the Champions League.
Villarreal v Arsenal
Manchester United v Porto
Liverpool v Chelsea
Barcelona v Bayern Munich
Manchester United or Porto v Villarreal or Arsenal
Barcelona or Bayern Munich v Liverpool or Chelsea
Liverpool will perhaps be marginal favourites in the all-English quarter-final after knocking Chelsea out at the semi-final stage in 2005 and 2007 but their fans will need no reminding that last season, when Chelsea got to play the second leg at home, it was the Londoners who came through.
The news that Rafael Benitez has agreed a new deal that will keep him at Liverpool until at least 2014 could not have been better timed for the club.
Uncertainty has stalked the 18-times English league champions for the past few seasons with rifts between co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, confusion over the proposed new stadium and above all the future of the manager Benitez.
Comments by UEFA officials that the body’s president Michel Platini is “dead set” against a European Super League must come as a huge relief to a vast majority of Europe’s clubs.
“People should not mix up philosophy and reality. As far as the president is concerned, such a proposal is a non-starter,” a senior official close to Platini told Reuters.
My colleague Patrick Johnston has been wondering aloud about the effect a 4-1 defeat by Liverpool is going to have on Manchester United. He’s in good company, because Guus Hiddink also believes the door is open a little bit.
The match must have been enjoyable for Liverpool fans but it’s not going to have an effect on the title race.
Please don’t try and tell me that a 4-1 defeat at home to your arch-rivals does not affect you — it must do.
At lunchtime on Saturday Manchester United knew they could probably afford to lose against Liverpool and still claim another Premier League title but does the manner of their capitulation offer hope to the chasing pack?