Ian Rush: ‘It Wouldn’t Surprise Me If AFCON 2021 Was Postponed Or Cancelled’

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Wales and Liverpool legend, Ian Rush
, has been talking about the Premier League clubs and their upcoming hectic Christmas break, as well as about the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and the Omicron variant of Covid-19 posing further challenges.

With 2021 AFCON holding in Cameroon from January 9 to Februaruy 6 2022 and with full application of Covid-19 protocols for the travelling players inevitable, some Premier League clubs will make do with missing the services of their star players in many games. Liverpool are a prime example, and Ian Rush hopes that new circumstance could play out in his former club’s favour.

In an exclusive interview with Gambling.com, Rush also talks about the potential need for a Covid-19 ‘circuit breaker’, with case numbers rising in a number of clubs, including Manchester United.

He fields questions from Gambling.com about Steven Gerrard’s highly-anticipated return to Anfield last weekend, and how impressed he’s been at Gerrard’s start at Villa, the frustration Liverpool players will feel at their incredible run of form not being rewarded by top spot in the league before Christmas, and how he sees the Top Four looking at the end of the season.


Rush On AFCON 2021 and fresh Covid-19 threats

“There’s been a few suggestions this week that that the Africa Cup of Nations could and perhaps should be shelved amid growing concerns over the new omicron variant of coronavirus.

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There’s always a chance things can be called off the longer Covid hangs around, so it really wouldn’t surprise me if it was postponed or cancelled altogether, and I suppose I’d have to admit that would be to Liverpool’s benefit.

When you’ve got Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita all set to miss games, only for that to suddenly not be the case anymore, you’d have to welcome that situation if you’re Jurgen Klopp.


However, it’s not good news for anyone that Covid cases are on the rise again and I’d have to say that if the Africa Cup of Nations does indeed get cancelled, then it’s probably for the best as people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Closer to home, things are not looking so great either with cancellations in the Europa Conference and postponements in the Premier League. I really hope we’re not heading towards another situation whereby crowds are denied access and the league continues behind closed doors.

It would be terrible for everyone really, not just the fans who really missed their football last season, but for local businesses who miss out on the foot traffic and also for the clubs who have also missed out on vital gate revenue in what has become a multimillion-pound industry.

From Liverpool’s point of view, having fans back has meant the world to the club, the team and the fan base. When there was no one at Anfield, Liverpool lost six games at home in a row, which had never happened before. It was shocking how much the fans were missed.

So I hope it doesn’t go that far this time around, but everyone has to be as safe as can be so we’ll just have to see how things pan out.

One option might be to have a winter break like other top European leagues do and hope that Covid cases inside and outside clubs can be contained over the Christmas period.

The Premier League have made an exception for a mid-season break to accommodate next year’s World Cup so maybe a winter break is something they can consider to address this growing concern.

If it could help keep things under control, then it’s worth looking at, but it might be a bit too late in the day to do that.”

Rush On Steven Gerrard’s Anfield Return

“As expected, Steven Gerrard got a wonderful reception at Anfield on Saturday and as I alluded to in last week’s column, I thought he was desperate to take all three points against his old side.

They nearly got one, and you could argue they were a bit unlucky. I thought Villa played really well, they frustrated Liverpool and it worked for the first 60-70 minutes during which time they really slowed the game down.

But Liverpool play very quickly and you can only slow them down for so long. Having said that, once the game opened up in the last 15-20 minutes Aston Villa got two or three chances so they could have nicked something.

So on that basis I’d have to say Stevie’s gameplan worked well – he got his tactics right, despite them not coming away with anything to show for it because Liverpool were just that little bit better on the day.

That’s Manchester City and Liverpool he’s now only narrowly lost to by one goal – number one and number two in the table. That bodes well for his managerial credentials and his ability to set a team up against the bigger sides, although knowing Stevie he won’t take much comfort from that, but they bounced back well with a 2-0 win at Norwich on Tuesday and that’s a sign of a good team.”

Rush On Man City’s Current Form

“Speaking of City, they look relentless at the moment but all Liverpool can do is keep winning their own games. We’ve been in this situation before when Liverpool gave everything but Manchester City just kept winning as well and eventually won the league with Liverpool having to settle for second on an incredible 97 points.

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It’s a bit frustrating but the two teams are setting the pace again this season, and we haven’t heard the last of Chelsea either. But right now you’d have to say Manchester City and Liverpool are upping their game and it’s great to watch, I think we’re seeing a great title race unfold.

Both teams are fantastic to watch. I watched City thump Leeds 7-0 on Tuesday and they were magnificent. Although when you come up against teams like City and Liverpool you really have to have a solid plan in place and Leeds didn’t look like they had anything planned.

If you turn up without an idea of what the plan is against the likes of City or Liverpool, you’re liable to concede six or seven as they did in this case. City put a huge dent in Liverpool’s goal difference with that win, but I don’t think it’ll bother the Reds too much.

The aim against Newcastle on Thursday will not to be score as many as you can, it will be to win the match, collect the three points and stay within reach of City. It’s always nice to score goals, but Liverpool won’t be thinking about goal difference just yet.”

Rush On Top Four Race

“With City, Liverpool and Chelsea looking miles ahead of everyone else, there’s a big group of teams all vying for the last top four spot and it’ll be one of the most fascinating battles of the season at this rate.

It’ll be interesting to see how Manchester United get on under Ralf Rangnick but I’ve said from the start of the season that I think Arsenal are going in the right direction and I’m still tipping them up to make it into the top four this season.

West Ham and Tottenham will also be in the mix but I think Arsenal are starting to win a lot of games now and I think they’ve really closed some distance between themselves and the top teams. It’s going to be wide open, but I’m sticking with my prediction.”

Rush On Newcastle’s Show Of Strength

“Newcastle have poached Performance Analyst Mark Leyland from Liverpoolahead of the two sides meeting on Thursday and you could say it’s a show of strength from the Magpies as they embark on a new era.

I don’t think it’ll add any spice to the game really, but Newcastle need to build for the present as well as the future because at the moment they’re in a relegation battle and desperately need three points ahead of their visit to Anfield.

I’m sure they’ll be making waves in the transfer window in January but now that other clubs are aware of their new-found wealth, they’ll probably have to pay a bit more for players than they want to. But they need to buy for the present, players who can get them out of a relegation battle.

Also behind the scenes, Real Madrid have reportedly approached Michael Edwards about becoming sporting director after he finishes up with Liverpool at the end of the season.

I know Michael really well. He’s worked really, really hard for Liverpool and I know his plan is to have a break first. Everyone needs a break now and then, but when offers like that come along you have to look at them.

At the moment, I think he really wants a break to spend time with his family, but you never know when Madrid come calling.”

Rush On Jones’ Return and Transfer Rumours

“At this time of year you want all your players fit and available because you’re playing every three or four days so it’s great news that Curtis Jones has returned to training after an eye injury.

There will be lots of players being used over the Christmas period and Curtis can be a key player for Klopp because he can’t play the same XI every game in such a hectic schedule.

Meanwhile, I see Joao Felix has been linked with a move to Anfield this week. I think he played well against Liverpool in the Champions League and when that happens players tend to pick up new suitors, so I’m not overly surprised by the rumours.

If he’s available, Liverpool will be weighing up whether or not they’re interested in him. Would he strengthen the side? I’m not sure where he’d fit in, but he’d certainly strengthen the squad so I think he’d be a good addition, but whether he’d be in the team week-in-week out is a different matter.

But that’s just an indication of how strong Liverpool are at the moment, that a player of that calibre wouldn’t be guaranteed a place.”

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