There have been occasions this season when the regulars at Anfield could have been forgiven for craving a distraction from events on the pitch. Not this week. Without taking the field, the club's reputation has been tarnished further. First came the postponement of Sunday's game against Tottenham, which would have occurred on a day when snow was thawing in north-west England.
Then the resignation of Tom Hicks Jnr from the board of both the club and its parent company, Kop Holdings, followed after he sent an abusive email to a supporter. Quiet competence and a respect for the fan base used to be two features of Liverpool. Not any more, it appears. Neither incident exactly enhanced the club's credibility. That task instead falls to its footballers. Weather permitting, they face Reading tonight with ample incentive to win. Along with the Europa League, the FA Cup presents a chance to end a four-season wait for silverware. The draw enhances that opportunity.
Win tonight and Liverpool host a managerless Burnley side already vanquished 4-0 at Anfield earlier this season. Moreover, Manchester United are already out, Arsenal face a tough tie at Stoke and both Chelsea and Manchester City have potentially awkward away games at Championship clubs in the fourth round. Lower-league opposition bring perils, as Liverpool know only too well. Four have eliminated them in the past decade, two in Rafa Benitez's reign. The most recent were Barnsley in 2008 and Brian Howard, scorer of their injury-time winner in front of the Kop, returns to Anfield in the Reading squad.
Benitez, unaware of the FA Cup's significance when he arrived, has a rather better idea now. Barnsley represented the nadir in knockout football in England, but the first setback came at Burnley in 2005 when a second-string side went out. "The mild discontent with Benitez's methods turned into hysteria," remembered Jamie Carragher, one of those rested. "I was watching at home, exchanging texts with Steven Gerrard at the horror that was unfolding as Djimi Traore back heeled the winning own goal. The flak was flying at the manager as he tried to explain his tinkering."
In contrast, though dicing with an early exit, the team that drew 1-1 at the Madejski Stadium 11 days ago was close to his full-strength side. As Liverpool have not played since, a similar selection is likely tonight with the injured Glen Johnson and the suspended Javier Mascherano the only likely absentees. Carragher and Gerrard are two of only three of the current squad to have won silverware at Anfield. It leaves a void for the rest.
"I remember watching the 2006 FA Cup final when Liverpool played against West Ham, it was a great match," said Fernando Torres. "Pepe Reina, Stevie and Carra have told me all about it. In this country it is the most important trophy after the title. "I know we finished second last year, but to win something and finish in the top four would be better than that." For both sides, the FA Cup could benefit their league form.
"The Liverpool performance has galvanised us as a group," said Reading's caretaker manager Brian McDermott. "That sort of display will naturally raise confidence levels." It also invited questions about why Reading are just outside the Championship's relegation zone. But neither Burnley nor Barnsley were in the top half of the second tier when they knocked Liverpool out. Now Benitez and co have to avert fresh ignominy.
The FA Cup is a winnable trophy and this is an eminently winnable game, but embarrassment has been a common emotion at Anfield both this season and this week. @Email:email@example.com Liverpool v Reading, KO 11.45pm, Al Jazeera Sport +3 & +5