Liverpool need to bounce back against Blackburn

Stunned 3-1 at home by Chelsea in the Champions League, Liverpool badly needs to bounce back by beating Blackburn on Saturday as it tries to knock Manchester United off top spot in the Premier League.

Rafa Benitez blamed defensive blunders for Wednesday’s result, which is likely to end its hopes in Europe. Now the Reds can’t afford any more mistakes as they try to keep up the pressure on defending champion United.

”I was disappointed with the manner of our defeat, and the bad mistakes we made at set pieces to allow them two goals,” Benitez said. ”Now it will be very difficult. We have to score three times at Stamford Bridge, which is a tough call against a very good side.

”Our first priority, though, is against Blackburn in the league, then we will see what we have to do at Chelsea.”

The good news for Benitez’ team is that United, which leads Liverpool by one point and Chelsea by four, also had its confidence dented by a 2-2 draw at home against FC Porto.

Porto scored an equaliser a minute from the end, which was the 10th goal United has conceded in four games — after setting a Premier League record this season for consecutive minutes without letting a goal into its own net.

”It’s not that the goals we are conceding are great goals from our opponents,” said goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who set a British record by going 1,311 minutes without conceding. ”We have to sort that out and start focusing on what we did very successfully for a long time this season. We need to get back to that way of defending and then we should be OK.”

United has problems at the center of defense with Rio Ferdinand struggling to shake off a lingering groin strain, and Nemanja Vidic having been frequently suspended or injured.

If the two northern heavyweights slip up again, then third-place Chelsea is ready to take advantage.

Temporary manager Guus Hiddink, who also coaches Russia’s national team, has recaptured the confidence that went missing during the final weeks of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s reign, and the Blues should collect three points at home to Bolton on Saturday.

Michael Essien’s return after a long injury layoff has given the midfield a more solid look and the Ghanaian kept Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard quiet during Wednesday’s game at Anfield.

Arsenal has overtaken Aston Villa by six points to take a firm hold on fourth place, which would mean another shot at next season’s Champions League. Arsene Wenger’s team, which has Cesc Fabregas back after a long injury layoff, visits eighth-place Wigan which was stung by a 4-0 defeat at Everton last Sunday.

Villa and Everton — who are fifth and sixth — meet on Sunday and are realistically looking at a Uefa Cup spot next season instead of a Champions League place.

Down at the foot of the standings, West Bromwich Albion seems certain to return to the League Championship after one season even if it wins at Portsmouth on Saturday. The Baggies have only 24 points from 31 games and are eight points away from safety.

Next-to-last Middlesbrough is also in dire trouble with 27 points and badly needs a victory at home to 15th-place Hull to revive its survival hopes.

Newcastle, which now has former star striker Alan Shearer in charge for the last few games of the season, is also in danger of dropping out of the top flight for the first time since 1989.

The Magpies, who lost 2-0 at home to Chelsea in Shearer’s first game in charge last weekend, are 18th with 29 points, three fewer than 17th-place Sunderland. They need a victory at 13th-place Stoke, although the Potters have proved throughout the season they are difficult to beat at home, with eight league victories.

Tottenham has climbed from last place to 11th since Harry Redknapp took over in late October and hopes to continue its revival with a victory at home to seventh-place West Ham. Also on Sunday, Manchester City hosts Fulham.

In the race to gain promotion to the top flight, League Championship leaders Wolves host next-to-last Southampton on Friday. Mick McCarthy’s team aims to rebound from a 2-0 defeat by second-place Birmingham, which should win at last-place Charlton on Saturday. — Sapa-AP

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