|Keeping the bench warm: The eight-match ban handed down to forward Luis Suarez could force $56 million Carroll to take centre stage [GALLO/GETTY]|
Andy Carroll can start repaying the faith shown in him by Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish by guiding the club to victory over former side Newcastle in the stand-out match in the English Premier League’s latest round of holiday fixtures.
Luis Suarez’s one-match suspension for sticking his middle finger up at Fulham fans in a recent league match should ensure Carroll starts at Anfield on Friday, against the team that sold him for $56 million in a stunning last-minute deal in January’s transfer window.
The mighty price tag – which made him one of the world’s costliest ever players – appears to be weighing heavily on the England striker, who has only scored twice in the league this season and has often started on the bench behind Suarez.
Brushing aside regular stories in the British press about Carroll’s off-field habits – he was urged by England manager Fabio Capello in September to drink less if he is to become a regular in the national squad – Dalglish insists the player can still thrive at Liverpool.
“He is adapting well to the change and we will keep working with him and, fortunately for Andy, we have much greater belief in him than a lot of people have who write about him,” Dalglish said.
“He is not struggling to deal with anything – I don’t think self-belief is a problem for Andy Carroll, I don’t see why it should be.”
Carroll – a boyhood Newcastle fan – could be set for an extended run in Liverpool’s starting line-up after Suarez was handed an eight-match ban from the Football Association last week for racially insulting Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a match in October.
The Uruguay international is likely to appeal against the suspension but could face a lengthy spell out, giving regular opportunities to Carroll.
With Liverpool having drawn their last two games, against lowly sides Wigan and Blackburn, they need to get back to winning ways to keep pace with their rivals for the European Champions League places.
Liverpool are currently in sixth place, a point and a place above Newcastle but three off fourth-place Chelsea.
“I think we deserve to be higher up the table than we are but you’ve got to earn that right and not talk about it,” Dalglish said.
“To be fair, they (the players) have done a lot of talking on the pitch for us.
“As long as we are in there somewhere, continue to do the right things and give ourselves a chance (come the end of the season) then we’ll be happy with that.”
Friday December 30
Liverpool v Newcastle
Saturday December 31
Man Utd v Blackburn
Sunday January 1
West Brom v Everton
It’s unlikely that Liverpool will be involved in this season’s title race, which is shaping up after 18 of the 38 games to be a three-horse race between the two Manchester clubs, City and United, and Tottenham.
City are top on goal difference from United, with Spurs seven points adrift in third but with a game in hand – at home to Everton next month.
With City not playing until New Year’s Day, when they visit Sunderland, United should end 2011 at the top of the table as they host bottom club Blackburn a day earlier.
A sixth straight league win since being held to a 1-1 draw by Newcastle at Old Trafford on November 26 would be the perfect way for United manager Alex Ferguson to celebrate his 70th birthday.
“When you win all the time, you get a real hunger for it,” said United defender Jonny Evans, who will miss the match with a calf problem to join a growing injury list that also includes fellow centre backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
“That’s something the manager’s built here over the years. You don’t like the feeling you get when you lose – even in training. And we don’t want to get to the end of the season with nothing to show for it.”
Tottenham will look to hand Swansea only their second home defeat of the season to stay on the coat-tails of the top two, while Chelsea – a point further adrift – host Aston Villa and fifth-place Arsenal are at home to Queens Park Rangers.