Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez’s job appears to be safe despite the club’s FA Cup elimination by lower-league Reading, but the Spaniard now has to deal with the absence of key players in the push for the Premier League top-four.
Injuries sustained in Wednesday’s 2-1 extra time loss will see striker Fernando Torres out for six weeks following surgery on his right knee, midfielder Yossi Benayoun sidelined for up to a month with a fractured rib and captain Steven Gerrard out for two weeks with a hamstring strain.
Without the key trio, Benitez must raise the Reds from seventh in the league — five points behind fourth-place Manchester City — starting with a victory at Stoke on Sunday.
Finishing in the top four to qualify for next season’s Champions League is the priority for Benitez. The FA Cup humiliation has left the Europa League as Liverpool’s only likely consolation prize.
Yet it appears that Benitez will be given time to turn around Liverpool’s fortunes with the club hierarchy privately dismissing the mounting pressure on the Spaniard.
"People have been talking about me for three months, I am used to it," Benitez said. "All we can do is continue to work hard, to think only of raising spirits for our next match.
"Everyone is very disappointed. It was a massive competition that we wanted to do well in. As for me, I will continue to do my best all the time. We have to carry on. We have to improve."
Liverpool had been leading League Championship club Reading in the fourth minute of stoppage time until Yossi Benayoun conceded a penalty kick. Reading levelled before scoring a 100th-minute winner.
Rodriguez arrival a boost
The arrival of Argentina winger Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid on Wednesday could be a big boost.
"He can help me score goals — one of the main qualities he has is to help strikers," Torres said. "He will help Stevie, Dirk [Kuyt] or myself to score goals because he gets a lot of assists. Maxi will help us a lot.
"I played with him for two seasons at Atletico and he's a very good player. I am sure he’ll score goals and work hard."
After Liverpool travels to Stoke in Saturday’s early match, the focus will shift to the title race.
League leader Chelsea, which holds a one-point lead over Manchester United and has a game in hand, hosts Sunderland. Arsenal, which is at Bolton on Sunday, is a further two points adrift.
"Thankfully the teams in and around us have been slipping up as well, but Arsenal are right back in the frame again," Chelsea captain John Terry said.
"When we beat them 3-0 [in November] I thought they were out of it to be honest. We need to concentrate on ourselves because apart from the Watford [FA Cup] victory, when we were brilliant albeit against a lesser side, we haven't been playing as well."
Looking to rebound
Like Liverpool, Man United will be looking to rebound from FA Cup disappointment when it hosts Burnley two weeks after losing to third-tier Leeds.
"We have been written off all season. We need to use all that as a fuel," United midfielder Darren Fletcher said from a training camp in Qatar.
"It hasn't been the easiest of times. There has been a lot of disruption. The injuries in defence have seen players playing all over the place, myself included. It is difficult to get a run of form when things like that happen."
Another person with a point to prove is Sol Campbell, who could make his return to the Arsenal first-team at Bolton, almost four years after leaving the club. The 35-year-old defender, who has been training with the Gunners since October, played for the reserve team on Tuesday as a prelude to a six-month contract being signed.
Manchester City will be without Emmanuel Adebayor when it goes to Everton on Saturday. The Togo striker is on compassionate leave following the deadly attack on his national team’s bus at the African Cup of Nations last Friday.
Also Saturday, Tottenham will be hoping Man City slips up and it beats Hull to return to fourth place. Bottom-place Portsmouth hosts Birmingham, which is on a 12-match unbeaten run, and Wigan is at Wolverhampton. On Sunday, Aston Villa hosts West Ham and Fulham travels to Blackburn.