Liverpool travel to Wigan hoping to get their Premier League title challenge back on track today but with off-field issues continuing to overshadow the Merseysiders’ quest for trophies.
Sunday’s 1-1 FA Cup draw with Everton, played out against the back-drop of co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett seeking further investment, once again highlighted the issue of Robbie Keane’s position at Anfield.
The striker is reported to have refused to attend the game after being told he would not be included in the 18-man squad.
His £20.3 million (US$29 million) pre-season arrival from Tottenham was the second-biggest fee in Liverpool’s history but the Republic of Ireland international’s impact has been limited and manager Rafael Benitez’s patience looks to be wearing thin.
Keane, 28, has started just one Premier League game since the turn of the year and whether he is selected at the JJB Stadium will be seen as an indicator to the player’s Liverpool future.
There is also continued uncertainty about Dirk Kuyt, who is seen as a key man by Benitez but is out of contract at the end of next season, as well as Daniel Agger.
The Dane’s current deal also expires next year and despite the defender publicly denying he could be on his way to AC Milan, he has revealed that Reds officials are yet to start negotiations to keep him at Anfield.
“The ball is with Liverpool,” Agger said. “I haven’t heard a sound from the club since the beginning of November.”
“There is no reason to set the expectations too high. To be honest, I have no idea if they want to sign a new deal,” he said.
US duo Hicks and Gillett will travel to Merseyside for Sunday’s game against Chelsea when the issue of Benitez’s deal, which also runs until tnext year, will be firmly back on the agenda.
By the time they kick off at the JJB Stadium, Liverpool could be three points behind leaders Manchester United, who travelled to West Brom yesterday.
Benitez knows his team must improve their recent form, which has seen them drop four points in their last two league games if they are to stick with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
Liverpool have an impressive record against their hosts, having won on their previous three Premier League trips to the Lancashire club.
Wigan, who won five out of six matches in the run-up to the turn of the year, have lost their last two.
They must now cope without Wilson Palacios and Emile Heskey, who left for Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa respectively last week.
But Wigan have three new transfer window signings who could all feature against the Reds.
Manager Steve Bruce could give debuts to midfielder Ben Watson and strikers Mido and Hugo Rodallega.
Watson joined in a £2 million deal from Crystal Palace. Wigan took Mido on loan from Middlesbrough until the end of the season while Colombia’s Rodallega joined in a £4.5 million deal from Mexican club Necaxa.
Bruce hopes Rodallega can fill the hole left by Heskey and he said: “If he is like any of the other South and Central American imports we have brought to the club then we have netted another gem.”