MANCHESTER, England, January 25- Kenny Dalglish is demanding an immediate response from his Liverpool players ahead of a critical week in which they face two huge cup ties which could shape their season.
Having fallen six points behind fourth place in the table – and a Champions League qualifying spot – after a surprise 3-1 defeat at struggling Bolton last weekend, Dalglish’s side entertain bitter rivals Manchester United on Saturday.
The FA Cup fourth round tie will be the first time the two clubs have met since Luis Suarez was hit with an eight-match ban for racially abusing United’s French defender Patrice Evra in a league match on October 15.
But before then Liverpool take a slender 1-0 lead into the deciding leg of the League Cup semi-final against Manchester City at Anfield on Wednesday.
Having gone six years without winning major silverware, Dalglish knows Liverpool cannot afford to mess up against the Premier League leaders, particularly after their season hit a new low with the defeat to Bolton.
The Liverpool manager believes the forthcoming cup ties could have been on the minds of some of his players last Saturday, but Dalglish has made it clear he will not tolerate any more sub-standard performances from his players.
“All season we’ve been very complimentary about the way the boys have gone about their work, but I don’t think you could say that on Saturday,” said Dalglish.
“Their approach to the game was poor.
“If you have pride in yourself and in the football club that reflects in the effort you put in. I don’t know where that attitude came from but it needs to go quickly.
“Whether they had their minds on the next two games, I don’t know. But every game we play is an important game.
“If they want to get any success at this football club, they have to understand we respect every opponent we come up against. It was certainly an unacceptable performance.
“Now we will get our minds on the Manchester City game. We have to solve our own problems.
“What do we do to put it right? Same as we always do – we work.”
Dalglish is expected to make changes, with winger Stewart Downing and Dirk Kuyt looking to return to the starting line-up.
Steven Gerrard’s early penalty in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium two weeks ago is all that divides the two clubs.
But whereas Liverpool are in need of a lift, City arrive at Anfield on the back of a dramatic 3-2 victory over title rivals Tottenham to preserve their three-point cushion at the top of the Premier League.
Yet manager Roberto Mancini, who is attempting to steer City to a second trophy in nine months after last season’s FA Cup triumph, has his own problems and is waiting to learn whether controversial striker Mario Balotelli has landed himself in more trouble.
The Italian striker infuriated Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp after his back-heel smashed into midfielder Scott Parker’s head.
Referee Howard Webb missed the incident but if he refers the matter to the Football Association, Balotelli, who was sent off in the 1-1 draw at Liverpool in the league on November 27, could be suspended for four games.
That would rule him out of Wednesday’s cup tie at Anfield.