Football: McManaman injury worries Liverpool

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THE INJURY that wrecked Steve McManaman's England dreams threatens to derail Liverpool's unbeaten start to the season.

The Premiership leaders are waiting to discover if McManaman's Achilles injury recovers in time for him to face Coventry at Anfield tonight.

McManaman was sent home from England's pre-Sweden training camp for further treatment on the injury that had forced him off near the end of the 4- 1 slaughter at Newcastle.

If he does not make it, there could be a change from the new all-out attacking system that has been employed since Gerard Houllier joined Roy Evans at the club.

McManaman has a new, central free role and has been stunning so far this campaign. Liverpool have no-one else who can recreate that flowing style in his absence.

It is likely Jamie Redknapp or Patrik Berger would be asked to take up a more attacking role with Jason McAteer returning to the midfield.

Evans hailed McManaman as a player who could provide England with a lift. "There is not a player like him in England. I think he's fantastic, he's certainly a great asset from our point of view," he said.

"We don't pick the England team but I see him as the perfect linkman in the international team. But that's only our opinion. We believe he is top, top quality."

It's a view not held by the England manager, Glenn Hoddle, who gave McManaman only a short spell as substitute in one World Cup squad. The view at Anfield is that McManaman could fill Paul Gascoigne's former role for England and eventually form a trio of Liverpool men in the England engine room alongside Redknapp and Paul Ince.

As for facing Coventry, Evans said: "He has done some light training, and we will wait to see what reaction there has been. It's an injury he's had for a while and we must be sure not to overplay him and handle him carefully over a long season. Coventry have given us plenty of trouble in the past, including last season's FA Cup defeat. Their strength is their team play and spirit, and we have to overcome that."

Robbie Fowler will play in a special private practice match today as he continues his recovery from knee surgery.

The Liverpool striker made a scoring comeback in the reserves at Leicester last week but is not in the 18-man squad to face Coventry. Evans said: "He's building up his games and sharpness, and if he comes through okay it could be that in the next week or so he will start challenging for a place in the team."

The Coventry manager, Gordon Strachan, is poised to give recent recruit Paul Hall a full debut in the game.

The pounds 300,000 signing from Portsmouth is set to start his first game for the club in place of Noel Whelan, who is sidelined with injuries sustained in an alleged weekend brawl.