Liverpool can Read the riot act to the Royals
Liverpool are having a well documented poor season following their Champions League exit and struggles in the Premier League. After a win at top four contenders Aston Villa on Tuesday night things are looking up and this should continue against Reading in the third round of the FA Cup.
The FA Cup, along with the Europa League, is the only trophy the Reds can realistically win this season so Benitez should select a near on full strength team for the trip to the Championship strugglers as he hopes to build on the high of the win at Villa Park.
Liverpool are the hot favourites in the match betting at 2/5 and I fully expect them to justify this price, starting XI permitting.
If Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard start at the Madejski Stadium then I would be on board the 2/5 if not though it throws the game wide open. Torres proved his class with his injury time winner against Villa despite continuing to look out of sorts for much of the match.
The Spanish striker has notched four goals in his last three matches against the Royals and he, as always, is the most likely scorer at 8/13.
Torres will hope to take advantage of a managerless Reading side which lacks confidence as they sit just two points above the relegation zone following a 4-1 thumping last time out at the hands of fellow relegation candidates Plymouth.
The Royals have only won one home match all season in the league plus they are without a win in five, so to expect them to beat Liverpool (13/2) is asking a bit much.
Reading's main problem has been a lack of goals, particularly at home, as they have only scored nine in 12 matches on home turf. Therefore Liverpool should be able to win to nil - a 19/20 shot. The seven-time FA Cup winners can also be backed to keep a clean sheet at 3/4, which would be their third in three matches.
This more solid base is a reason to be more optimistic on Liverpool's chances as the defence has looked very shaky at times this season with Jamie Carragher in particular struggling. The Liverpool vice-captain may well start at right back against Reading as Glen Johnson is out following the injury he picked up against Villa.
Nevertheless the Reds' backline should still be able to contain this goal shy Reading side to help the team go on and win and progress to the fourth round. Benitez will certainly hope that is the case as one would have to wonder whether defeat would see the Spaniard given his P45 as a belated New Year present.
Conversely though Reading's caretaker boss Brian McDermott will know that a famous win could boost his chances of landing the manager's job on a full-time basis. However though I think it is highly unlikely that some cup romance will occur in this tie.