LONDON: Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson says he is ready to lead from the front as his injury-hit side aim to avoid more misery at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday (Feb 14).
With Reds captain Steven Gerrard likely to be sidelined for up to three weeks with a hamstring problem and Lucas Leiva out for six weeks with a thigh injury, central midfield looks a vulnerable area for Brendan Rodgers’s team.
But Henderson, tipped as a potential Liverpool skipper when Gerrard leaves at the end of the season, is likely to start alongside Joe Allen at Selhurst Park and the England international is keen to show he can shoulder the responsibility of driving his team to victory.
“To lose Lucas first was a big blow because he has been outstanding for us since he came into the team as that defensive, holding midfielder,” Henderson said.
“Obviously Stevie (Gerrard) is a big loss, even though it is not as long (as Lucas), but there are some big games coming up that he might not be involved in.
“But it is another chance for people to come in and show what they are made of and slot straight into the team. Hopefully someone can do that.
“Maybe I need to take more responsibility with those two players gone.”
Last season, several of Rodgers’s team left the field in tears after squandering their last chance of winning the Premier League title as they blew a three-goal lead in an epic 3-3 draw at Selhurst Park.
They fared even worse on their first return since then to Palace, where they haven’t won since 1997, as the Eagles, then managed by Neil Warnock, romped to a 3-1 win in November that Rodgers regards as his club’s lowest point of the season.
Palace’s recently appointed manager Alan Pardew also has history in this fixture after famously scoring the winning goal when the Eagles shocked Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi-finals.
UNITED IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Manchester United will continue their lower league odyssey when they face League One side Preston North End at Deepdale on Monday.
Louis van Gaal’s team have narrowly avoided potential FA Cup upsets against minnows Yeovil and Cambridge United this term and shouldn’t be taking victory for granted in their first encounter with Preston since 1972.
United have already lost to one third tier opponent this season, crashing out of the League Cup against Milton Keynes Dons, and they needed a replay to get past fourth tier Cambridge in the last round.
Simon Grayson’s Preston are fourth in the third tier table and veteran striker Kevin Davies, a former England international, hopes his team can take advantage of the negativity surrounding Van Gaal’s use of long ball tactics this season.
“There have been a few boos about the long balls and the style of play has not been great,” Davies said.
“Just looking at one or two of the players, like (Robin) Van Persie scoring against Burnley, no real smile, he didn’t look particularly happy. Wayne Rooney playing a bit deeper.
“Are they enjoying it as much as they used to? I don’t get that impression.
“They’re fantastic players but I don’t think they’re living up to expectations.”
Holders Arsenal host Middlesbrough on Sunday boosted by the news that Alexis Sanchez did not suffer a serious knee injury in the midweek win against Leicester.
The Chile winger took a knock that left Gunners boss Arsene Wenger admitting he was concerned, but the problem is only minor, although the manager may opt not to risk Sanchez against the second tier leaders, especially with Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey already sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Third tier giant-killers Bradford, fresh from their stunning 4-2 win at Chelsea in the previous round, will try to claim another famous scalp when they take on Sunderland at Valley Parade.
Aston Villa play for the first time since the midweek sacking of manager Paul Lambert as Leicester visit Villa Park in a clash between two clubs currently marooned in the Premier League relegation zone.
FA Cup fifth round fixtures (11pm, Singapore time unless stated):
Blackburn v Stoke, Crystal Palace v Liverpool (1.30am Sunday), Derby v Reading, West Brom v West Ham (8.45pm)
Arsenal v Middlesbrough (1600 GMT), Aston Villa v Leicester (8.45pm), Bradford v Sunderland (10.30pm)
Preston v Manchester United (3.45am Tuesday)