Liverpool seek spark for stalled title challenge

Just when Liverpool’s focus should be on maintaining their strongest title challenge since they were last English champions nearly 20 years ago, unwelcome distractions are coming thick and fast.

Liverpool, who are level on points at the top of the Premier League with champions Manchester United, face a testing trip to Wigan Athletic away on Wednesday with dark clouds beginning to loom over Anfield.

Off the pitch there is uncertainty over a possible Arab approach to buy the club from American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, while manager Rafael Benitez, who has been suffering with kidney stones, has still not signed a new contract.

Captain Steven Gerrard faces an assault charge in court in March while £19-million signing Robbie Keane could not even make the squad for Sunday’s drawn FA Cup fourth round against Everton despite not being injured.

To add to the concerns of the worried Liverpool fans queuing up to voice their opinions on radio phone-ins, Spain striker Fernando Torres is struggling to reproduce the form that made him an instant hit last season.

Liverpool’s flying start to the season suffered a slow puncture towards the end of last year when the Reds could only draw at home with Fulham, West Ham United and Hull City.

A tepid performance in the 0-0 draw at Stoke City followed by a home draw against Everton earlier handed the momentum to United, who could be three points in front before Liverpool kick off at Wigan if they win at West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday.

Huge gamble
Benitez’s team selection for a game that Liverpool can ill afford to drop points from will come under scrutiny. With the team struggling to score goals, the continuing exclusion of Keane would be a huge gamble for the Spaniard.

Like Liverpool, third-placed Chelsea are also in need of a spark if their challenge is not to wither. They will have no better opportunity than a home game against a Middlesbrough side experiencing a woeful run of results.

Arsenal remain in touch in fifth place but face a tough task away to Everton on Wednesday.

Manchester City manager Mark Hughes will just be glad to have a football match to talk about after the failed bid for AC Milan’s Kaka and a run-in with striker Robinho.

Craig Bellamy, City’s new signing from West Ham United, will make his debut against one of his numerous former clubs, Newcastle United.—Reuters

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