By Séamus Leonard
Liverpool travels to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday in a veritable No Man’s Land in the English Premier League table. There is no threat of relegation, but similarly – after last weekend’s disappointing 0-0 draw with West Ham at Anfield – there is little chance of breaking into the top five to land a European spot for next season.
The Reds’ manager, Brendan Rodgers, has all but accepted that his side will not feature in either the Champions League or Europa League in 2013/14. He even suggested that such an event would not be a catastrophe for the club. While some observers may see this as a cop out to cover over his side’s failings during this campaign, there is merit in the argument that a season without European football would help Rodgers’ charges establish themselves in the higher echelons of the EPL.
For the moment, however, finishing as high up in the league as possible is the priority, especially as city rivals Everton stand three points ahead of Liverpool, with a game in hand. With a Merseyside derby at Anfield to come on May 5, there is every chance that the Toffees could be reeled in. It’s not exactly the achievement Reds fans were hoping for at the start of the season, but it would be a victory of sorts for the boss in his first season.
The visit to the Madejski will see Rodgers return to a club he spent 14 years with as a player and coach before eventually becoming manager in 2008 after a spell in charge of Watford. The Northern Irishman was sacked by the Royals after just six months in the job, an experience he recalled this week as having had a positive effect on his managerial career.
At his pre-match press conference on Thursday, Rodgers rejected any idea that top striker Luis Suarez is looking tired after his goalscoring exploits this season. The Uruguayan has netted 22 times in the league this term, and Rodgers said that the fact that people noticed the attacker’s moderate performance against the Hammers illustrated how consistent the former Ajax player’s performances have become.
Suarez’s strike partner Daniel Sturridge has started on the bench for the past couple of games, but the visit to Berkshire may be an appropriate time to reintroduce him to the starting line-up. His inclusion may come at the expense of Stewart Downing, who was substituted in the first half last Sunday, as the winger was struggling with illness. Yet again Raheem Sterling will not feature, as the Liverpool medical team continues to assess the impact this breakthrough season has had on the winger’s young body. Martin Kelly (knee), Fabio Borini and Joe Allen (both shoulder) are also sidelined while they make their way back from their respective injuries.
Reading, for its part, desperately needs a win to maintain any hope of pulling off a miraculous escape from the relegation zone. Nigel Adkins’ side currently lies eight points behind fourth-from-bottom Sunderland, and, with just six games remaining, the Royals look certain to return to the Championship from whence they came. A lot of neutrals will feel it is no less than the club deserves after it dismissed the likeable Brian McDermott despite his excellent work in achieving promotion to the top flight of English football.
But with Liverpool possibly lacking in motivation, Reading may find they are able to eke out a result that will leave them clinging to some hope of avoiding the drop.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. If not, you can watch it on Fox Soccer, with coverage starting at 1000 EST.
Reading v Liverpool
When: Saturday, April 13, 1000 EST/1500 GMT
Where: Madejski Stadium, Reading
Previous Premier League match: Reading 0-2 Southampton, Liverpool 0-0 West Ham United
League Position 2012-13: Reading 20th (23 points), Liverpool 7th (49 points)
Projected Reading Starting 11
DEF: Gunter, Morrison, Mariappa, Kelly
MID: Robson-Kanu, Karacan, Akpan, Guthrie
FW: McAnuff, Le Fondre
Subs from: McCarthy, Pearce, Leighterwood, Harte, Akpan, Hunt, McCleary, Pogrebnyak
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique
MID: Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson
FW: Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho
Subs from: Jones, Skrtel, Coates, Shelvey, Suso, Assaidi, Sturridge, Wisdom, Coady
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard