When the topic of Liverpool is raised in the company of Neil Warnock, one knows what to expect. A long, irritated, overblown account of why Rafa Benitez is to blame for Warnock's Sheffield United side getting relegated at the end of the 2006-2007 season. Benitez fielded a slightly weakened team in a 1-0 loss against Fulham ahead of the Champions League final that year, and the Cottagers ultimately survived, finishing two points above Sheffield United, who haven't been back to the Premier League since.
Thankfully Warnock has broken tradition ahead of tomorrow's visit to Selhurst Park, where his Crystal Palace side are only safe from the relegation zone on goal difference after losing four of their last five matches. And, rather than striking an adversarial tone in the build-up, Warnock has praised the quality of the two men who are in contention to lead Liverpool in attack:
'I wish I had their problems. They have world-class players in every position. You just have to look at the strikers they have, two of them I quite like myself. I think (Mario) Balotelli is a fantastic player, Rickie (Lambert) is good, too. They have different qualities.
'We know we are going to have to play extremely well. I just want us to cause them problems. It's going to be a great game. They have very good players and it's another opportunity for us to prove ourselves against a strong team. We just have to be ready, we must focus on ourselves and play our own game. We want to give them a good game.'
Warnock does have similar problems in a way, with only one of their league goals coming from a striker in the last two months of football--Fraizer Campbell scored in the 90th minute in the 2-1 loss against Chelsea, but other than that Palace have had to rely on the midfield or own goals to get on the scoresheet. The quality is obviously different, but the end product has been worryingly similar.
For once Liverpool supporters will be hoping Neil Warnock's words hold true, and that tomorrow sees the qualities of Balotelli, Lambert, and others emerge as Liverpool try to build momentum ahead of a critical month.