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Rupert Wyman 15th Jan 2010 - 18:05

No Gerrard and no Torres, but when will there be no Benitez?

The clock would appear to be ticking on Rafael Benitez's time in charge of Liverpool. The Spaniard has presided over a disastrous season so far for the Reds and if things don't improve against Stoke City then Liverpool could well be saying adios to their manager.

It seems the only thing stopping the Liverpool board from sacking Benitez is his lucrative contract that would result in him being awarded a multi-million pound pay-off.

The latest in a long line of horror shows this season, took place in midweek as Liverpool were dumped out of the FA Cup by Championship strugglers Reading.

During the match the Reds lost the services of star duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, who are now out injured for two and six weeks respectively. The latest calamity came on the back of being knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage and an abysmal title challenge which has seen the Reds struggling to stay in the top four as they have already lost seven Premier League matches this season.

Benitez knows that only a win will do against Stoke, if he is to relieve the pressure. A Liverpool side missing its two stars though will find a victory hard to come by. For those interested it is 23/20 that they claim the win, and Benitez quite often pulls a rabbit out of the hat when people least expect him to.

Stoke are no mugs though at the Britannia Stadium. Their only three home defeats this season have been against Chelsea and Man Utd as well as an in-form Birmingham. The last time the Potters were at home they were very impressive in taking a 3-0 first-half lead against Fulham before the Cottagers gave them a scare in the second half with two goals.

If Tony Pulis' side play with their usual high intensity, backed by their passionate supporters, then a home win is certainly possible at 5/2, however I would prefer to be on the draw at 9/4.

For a bit of extra security the double chance market could be useful with a Stoke win or draw priced at 7/10.

It is hard to see where Liverpool's goals will come from as not only are they missing the aforementioned Gerrard and Torres but Yossi Benayoun is also injured. Therefore much will rest on the shoulders of the less-than-prolific Dirk Kuyt. The Dutchman is 15/8 to score, however, I fancy the chances of Maxi Rodriguez of marking his debut with a goal and the Argentine can be backed at the same price as Kuyt.

Before Stoke's three-goal blitz against Fulham they were struggling to score with just two goals in their last six league matches and as a result I wouldn't wish to back any of the home side's players to get on the scoresheet.

With Liverpool missing their two main sources of goals and Stoke's struggles in front of goal, under 2.5 goals could be the way to go at 4/7.

In the correct score betting 0-0 and 1-1 are the two that appeal the most at 15/2 and 9/2 respectively.

Liverpool may see a draw as a good result given the circumstances, but if you had asked any Reds fan at the start of the season whether a draw against Stoke would be a good result I can guarantee that the answer would have been an emphatic no. But, so low have Liverpool fallen, that it is now the reality and as Benitez seeks to help his guarantee that Liverpool will finish in the top four come good, one has to wonder if he will even be in the Anfield hotseat come the end of the season if their struggles continue.



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