JOHN BARNES has warned Liverpool they will need to avoid complacency when they welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to Anfield tomorrow, but admits it will be nice to get back to talking about football again after a trying week.
The Reds entertain Gus Poyet’s Championship hopefuls in a fifth round FA Cup tie on Sunday afternoon, hoping to book a first quarter-final appearance since 2006.
Kenny Dalglish’s side defeated the Sussex side in the Carling Cup earlier in the season, winning 2-0 at the AmEx Stadium, but Barnes insists they will need to be on their guard against a side who defeated Premier League Newcastle United in the last round.
Barnes, who will be part of ESPN’s coverage of the game in his role as a TV analyst, said: “I covered Brighton’s game against Newcastle in the last round, and I was very impressed by them.
“They keep the ball, they are a good footballing side and they don’t just resort to kick and rush when they are under pressure. In many ways they are more suited to playing in the Premier League than the Championship, because they are about possession.
“Gus Poyet is a good manager who does things the right way. His side work hard and are well organised, and I think they will give Liverpool a tough game.
“Kenny criticised his players after the defeat to Bolton (last month) and said they had to prove they were not complacent. I think they have done that since, but they can’t afford any complacency here because Brighton have the ability to take advantage if they are.”
He added: “As a player, you try not to prepare for games against lower league opposition any differently. But of course complacency can creep in, whether consciously or otherwise.
“Upsets happen every year. I played in a Liverpool side that lost at home to Bristol City (in 1994), so I know how it feels. But I think this Liverpool side will have enough to deal with Brighton, if they are focused.”
Barnes believes Liverpool’s response - particularly in Cup competitions - to that 3-1 reverse at the Reebok Stadium in January, has been impressive, but says they still have work to do to install some consistency into their performances.
He said: “In many respects that Bolton defeat has been a good thing for Liverpool because it allowed Kenny to speak out about one or two things, and make public his dissatisfaction.
“It will have come as a big shock to him to see his side play so poorly, and he will have done a lot of work to remove the negative aspects of that display.
“What Liverpool need to do is to take the attitude and the desire from their cup performances, and use them in the league. They have not done that over the years, even when they were winning the Champions League (in 2005).
“The key to top sides is playing the same way against the big boys as against the lesser sides. You have to be up for every single game.”
And with a Carling Cup final on the horizon, Barnes believes there will be places up for grabs this weekend, with the likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson all eager to impress.
“Times have changed,” he added. “It is a squad game now, and there are changes every week.
“I expect a few changes on Sunday, and nobody will want to be left out at Wembley, so it is a great chance for players like that to impress.”
Liverpool v Brighton will be televised live on ESPN at 3.45pm on Sunday – it is one of three live FA Cup 5th Round games on ESPN this weekend. Visit ESPN.co.uk/tv for more details.