LIVERPOOL’S surge for the end of season tape was dealt a further blow yesterday when centre-half Martin Skrtel was slapped with a Football Association charge for violent conduct.
The charge relates to an injury-time incident in the Reds’ clash against Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday where the Slovakia defender was alleged to have stamped on Spanish keeper David de Gea.
Skrtel faces the prospect of a three-game suspension, the same penalty initially dished out to Chelsea striker Diego Costa who was retrospectively punished for stamping on Liverpool’s Emre Can in the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg.
The 30-year-old has until 6pm to respond but if found guilty could miss crucial Premier League clashes against Arsenal and Newcastle United, as well as the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.
Sunday’s loss against Manchester United proved calamitous for Liverpool. Defeat was their first of the calendar year which has seen Brendan Rodgers’ side fall five points behind fourth-placed United in the race for the Champions League.
The game also saw skipper Steven Gerrard receive a straight red card just 38 seconds after coming on as a half-time substitute for stamping on midfielder Ander Herrera. He will also miss the same sequence of fixtures as Skrtel is earmarked to.
The loss of Skrtel and Gerrard for Saturday’s showdown with Arsenal at Emirates Stadium could prove significant in a game likely to go some distance to determining Liverpool’s European fate. Defeat could effectively sound the death knell for their top-four aspirations.
Gerrard has spoken of his desire to mark the end of his 17-year career with boyhood club Liverpool with a Wembley appearance in the FA Cup final in May, which coincidentally happens to be his 35th birthday.
But the LA Galaxy-bound midfielder, like Skrtel, will be powerless to influence Liverpool’s plight in their quarter-final replay against Blackburn on 8 April, with the winners facing Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa in the last four.
The two teams played out a goalless draw at Anfield earlier this month and, while Blackburn’s form has suffered of late with successive home defeats to Brentford and Brighton, Gary Bowyer’s outfit promise to be no pushovers.
Despite slipping out the play-off picture and lying 10th in the Championship, Blackburn have already accounted for Premier League opposition in this season’s FA Cup, in the shape of Swansea City and Stoke City in earlier rounds.