Last year Liverpool crashed out of the FA Cup to Barnsley. The previous season Arsenal left Anfield having inflicting a 3-1 defeat. On both occasions Rafa Benitez fielded weakened starting elevens. This year it appears that the Reds’ Spanish manager will accord the world’s oldest cup competition appropriate respect, selecting club captain, Steven Gerrard, and other first choice players. This evening’s third round tie against Preston, therefore, might witness the start of Liverpool’s most serious attempt to win the trophy since the dramatic final triumph against West Ham in 2006.
Naturally all eyes will be on Gerrard following the alleged assault in a Southport nightspot for which he has been charged. And inevitably Liverpool supporters will be inclined to afford their captain the benefit of doubt in this instance. His on field heroics have hitherto been accompanied by unobtrusive conduct off it. Gerrard has consistently shown himself to be a dedicated professional. If it transpires that Liverpool’s midfield powerhouse was involved in an incident whereby a ‘garrulous’ Manchester United supporter was forcibly silenced, will it tarnish previous achievements in the eyes of Koppites? I doubt it very much.
Benitez is affording Gerrard an opportunity to show that he will not be distracted by events surrounding his arrest. 2009 promises to be a vital year for the club and its captain and neither can afford to be preoccupied with anything that is not related to winning matches and collecting trophies.