Rafa must avoid Burnley banana skin
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Liverpool can afford no more slip ups as newly-promoted Burnley ride into town on the crest of a wave. Chris Murphy looks ahead.
Rafael Benitez v Owen Coyle
There's no doubt Owen Coyle has enjoyed a better start to the season than his opposite number. Burnley's opening day defeat at Stoke was quickly forgotten after a famous victory over Manchester United in their first top flight fixture at Turf Moor in 33 years. Add to that another three points when Everton visited four days later and Clarets' fans already have more memories to cherish than many promoted sides acquire in a full season. At Chelsea, Burnley were given a harsh lesson about life in the top flight, and the top four especially, but if Coyle's men can hold out until half-time at Anfield they may put a brittle Liverpool side under even more pressure.
Nothing less than three points and a clean sheet will allow Rafael Benitez to emerge from Saturday's game without any sort of stick. A limp defeat at Spurs on the opening weekend and a home reverse against Aston Villa showed what life is like when neither of his two heavyweights - Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres - can launch a sustained assault between them. A victory is a must but just as important is emerging with the fitness of his two major players intact. Benitez has left himself very little room for manoeuvre already and the season is only just into September.
Fernando Torres v Brian Jensen
Brian Jensen probably had an inkling before the big kick-off he was in line for his busiest ever season and the opening four games will have done little to convince him otherwise. Jensen will have to complement his heroics against Manchester United and Chelsea with another all-action display at Anfield. As ever with a team involving Gerrard, he will be worked from long distance while the obvious threat of Torres will be felt much closer to his net. Any side to take points from Liverpool needs their keeper to play a blinder; Burnley will hope Jensen makes it a hat-trick for the season.
Like the rest of his team-mates, Torres has endured a slovenly start to the season. Isolated from his midfield, and Gerrard in particular, at Spurs he was starved of supply against Aston Villa, despite notching his second goal of the campaign. With Gerrard restored to form, the axis Liverpool relies on so heavily should be renewed. Despite Burnley's obvious game plan to close the Spaniard down as much as possible, Torres will still be vital to the home side's threat. Chances usually fall his way and even if they don't his movement is enough to attract defenders and create space for his colleagues.
Steven Gerrard v Graham Alexander
Benitez underlined Gerrard's continued importance to the cause by singling him out for criticism after Liverpool's defeat to Aston Villa - no-one else was lucky enough to get a name check. Despite his unnecessary admonishment, an improved showing at Bolton (after Sean Davis was dismissed, of course) and two midweek goals for England show the Reds' skipper is back to his team-carrying best. Like Torres, he'll be followed as closely as an MI5 target, but will still be crucial for his set piece delivery and potency from range. Floating in between midfield and attack, Gerrard will look to exploit every inch of the field he can find.
Graham Alexander will more than likely be handed the task of shackling Gerrard, just as Fabrice Muamba did so successfully for two thirds of the game in Bolton. At Anfield, Alexander will occupy the hole and track Gerrard's attempts to link with Torres. Coyle will drum into his players the need for snap in their early tackles to show they aren't overawed by the occasion. A tireless afternoon awaits the 37-year-old.
Glen Johnson v Stephen Jordan
With the visitors defending in numbers to try and stifle Liverpool's creative juices, both full-backs will be instructed to push forward to offer width in the assault to unlock Burnley's back door. As such, Johnson and Emiliano Insua will doubtless spend more time in the opposition half than their own. Question marks still remain over the Johnson the defender, as Croatia's solitary goal at Wembley proved, but going forward there are few better in the Premier League. In four games for his new club Johnson has scored twice and had a hand in two more. Overlapping runners from deep will stretch Burnley's back line and Johnson will be afforded plenty of opportunity to indulge his attacking instincts.
Stephen Jordan will not only have Johnson to contend with, but Dirk Kuyt as well. The Dutchman will effectively be employed as a third striker on Saturday and the protection Jordan is offered by Chris McCann will be critical. Gerrard will drift left and right to try and open up gaps in the visiting back line and Jordan will have to operate as one with his fellow defenders to allow no chink of light through. Stopping delivery into the box from wide areas will be top of his to do list.