1:15pm EST, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
1-0 Blackburn (a) 12.26.06
1-1 (h) 10.14.06
1-0 Liverpool (a) 04.16.06
1-0 Liverpool (h) 10.15.05
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Cardiff (h); 1-1 Arsenal (h); 1-2 Besiktas (a)
Blackburn: 2-1 Pompey (a); 2-1 Tottenham (a); 4-2 Reading (h)
Liverpool: Torres 4; Voronin 3; Alonso, Gerrard, Kuyt 2; Babel, Benayoun, Sissoko 1
Blackburn: McCarthy 5; Santa Cruz 4; Bentley 2; Derbyshire, Dunn, Samba, Tugay 1
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carragher Hyypia Arbeloa
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Riise
Last week, Liverpool went up against an Arsenal team that had only drawn one game so far this season. This week, they travel to Blackburn, which has won their last seven, and is the only other team to have taken points off of Arsenal this season.
And Liverpool does it without Torres, Alonso, Agger, and Pennant. It looks like Arbeloa, Aurelio, and Mascherano will be fit, and Kewell may even make an appearance on the bench, but those are 4 very influential players Liverpool will be without.
In Torres’ absence, I’d be surprised if Benitez reverted to the formation used last week against Arsenal. If any striker, Kuyt, Crouch, or Voronin, plays alone up top, there’s an excellent chance that Samba and the rest of Blackburn’s stingy defense would be able to mark them out of the game. While a Kuyt/Crouch partnership isn’t the most prolific on Liverpool’s roster, I think it gives the team the best opportunity to pierce Blackburn’s back line. And I think Crouch has earned another start after the last two games, especially with Torres out.
Gerrard did play excellently in the free role last week, but he also played well in central midfield against Cardiff, scoring his 3rd goal in 3 games. It’s been more than encouraging seeing the captain returning to form, despite the number of games he’s played recently. If Sissoko is still out sick, it seems most likely that Gerrard will start in the center, as I don’t know if Benitez will be comfortable pairing Lucas with Mascherano behind Stevie at this stage of Lucas’ career.
If Kuyt and Crouch do start (or Kuyt and Voronin for that matter), it’s tempting to think Benitez will go with two wingers capable of chipping in goals in Babel and Benayoun. However, with the form Blackburn’s in and the fact it’s at Ewood Park, I think Liverpool will be a bit more conservative, with Riise in midfield now that Arbeloa’s returned and Benayoun on the other side, as he’s got experience in tight Premiership games like this and didn’t start on Wednesday. But that could also change if David Bentley isn’t fit to terrorize down Rovers’ right side, although it looks like both he and Mokoena will be available after going off injured mid-week.
This game will close out a tough month for Liverpool. Aside from the struggles in the Champions League, the results’ haven’t been that bad, but it’s clear the team’s not at it’s best. However, unbeaten in the league when you’re not playing the best isn’t a bad thing; all teams go through spells, especially when the spine of the team is beset by injuries.
Were Liverpool to take points off of Blackburn, who currently sits one point and one place high than them in the table, it would put the team in an excellent position for the next run of games, and after the international break in a couple of weekend, Torres, Alonso, and Agger should all be back.
But Blackburn is one of the hardest places to travel to in the Premiership. They’ve always been a physical, tough side to play, but in Santa Cruz, Bentley, and others, they can out-play teams now as well. Liverpool will have to be on song if they’re to take anything away from this match, and the team desperately need a result to keep pace with the leaders and get back to the early-season form that was so promising.