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Stuart Dalgleish 8th Nov 2009 - 17:41

Birmingham should offer Benitez some welcome relief

It's been a tough month or so for Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez as he's seen his side win just one of their last eight games.

The strength in depth of the Spaniard's squad has come in for some serious criticism, because without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, amongst others, the Reds have suffered big time, and you have to say that their title challenge is all but over now after a series of Premier League defeats.

They should have enough to get past travel sick Birmingham, who've only won one of their five away games in the league, but they need a lot favours if they're to get back in the title race; even a top four position is looking doubtful at the minute.

City have given Liverpool problems over the years though and are actually six games unbeaten against the Reds in the top flight, but even without their star pair surely Pool can't slip up again? After all, that's what caused them problems last year, inability to break down teams at Anfield.

To be fair to Liverpool, prior to this recent slump in form they have done a lot better at getting at teams early on home soil and have four wins from five league games on Merseyside so far, Aston Villa being the only side to take any points away with them so far.

Benitez could be buoyed by the return of his 'big two' as Gerrard and Torres have both been involved in light training, whether or not they'll be involved from the start is another matter as captain Gerrard hasn't played in three league games and Torres hasn't completed a league fixture since the start of October; but with both players, according to Benitez, set to be left out of their respective international squads the pair could be risked from the start as they'll have a two week break before their next game to recover.

They are obviously crucial to Liverpool's chances for the season, but for this game I still expect them to win regardless of their involvement and this is reflected in their odds of 1/3, the handicap market could be more tempting though with Liverpool minus a goal available at evens. Interestingly the last four league meetings between these two sides have finished level and that eventuality happening for a fifth straight match is a 7/2 shot. Alex McLeish's Blues are huge outsiders at 10/1 to get all three points, but they did stun Anfield five years ago with a 1-0 success, the first part of a league double for the Midlands side.

The first goal is absolutely crucial in this game, if Liverpool don't get it the crowd could start to become anxious; generally the Anfield faithful have been behind their manager but the longer this poor run of form continues, the more the players could be affected by disapproving sounds from the Kop.

The most likely candidate to get that first goal is obviously Torres, priced at 11/4, but with the Spanish hit-man not guaranteed to start you could be worth looking further back in the list; hard working forward-turned-winger Dirk Kuyt should be considered, he was unlucky not to be amongst the goals against Manchester United after a terrific display, and with the Dutchman potentially playing in a more advanced role he could be good value at 9/2. Ryan Babel could be in contention for a start after scoring an amazing goal in Liverpool's Champions League game, the winger is 7/1 to open the scoring.

City have found goals hard to come by so far this season, and have only scored more than one in a game once, when they defeated Sunderland at St Andrew's; it makes picking out a first scorer for them quite difficult, but at 16/1 and with three goals to his name in 11 league and cup games Lee Bowyer could be worth a shout. Christian Benitez is the Blues' favourite to score first at 9/1 but hasn't found the back of the net this season, playing the full 90 minutes for each of his last four games.

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