10am, live in the US on Setanta
Last 4 head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 01.01.07
0-2 Bolton (a) 09.30.06
1-0 Liverpool (h) 04.09.06
2-2 (a) 01.02.06
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 4-1 Porto (h); 3-0 Newcastle (a); 2-0 Fulham (h)
Bolton: 1-1 Aris Salonika (h); 1-0 United (h); 0-0 Boro (h)
Liverpool: Torres 5; Gerrard 4; Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso, Babel 2; Benayoun, Sissoko 1
Bolton: Anelka 7; Braaten, Campo, Helguson, Nolan, Speed 1
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carragher Hyypia Arbeloa
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Kewell
Since 02-03, when I started being completely obsessive over Liverpool, Bolton’s been one of my least favorite teams to see on the schedule. Partly Sam Allardyce’s style, partly because Bolton always had the potential to be one of those ‘bogey teams’ (like Birmingham), and partly because of some of the decisions that have ruined Liverpool’s chances in the past (like Reina’s “handball” in the 0-2 loss at the Reebok last year).
This year had looked to be different, but Megson’s gotten them back to their brand of football, ever so evident in the 1-0 win over United last Saturday. They are still a physical side that’s an utter pain to play against. But with 17 goals in the last 4 games, I’m less afraid of Liverpool being unable to break down the opposition (knocking furiously on wood), and an early goal will go a long way towards getting Bolton out of their shell.
Which is why I’m guessing an attacking line-up, with Torres, Crouch, Benayoun, and Gerrard all on the scoresheet recently, as well as Kewell, who's returned to fitness and continues to be an important part of the team. I know we’ve yet to see Crouch get an extended run with Torres (or even an extended spell in the starting line-up), but there’s been a growing clamor for the partnership, and despite the physicality of Bolton, Crouch played well against them the last time the two teams met.
Last season, the key to beating Bolton 3-0 on New Year’s Day was Liverpool’s width on the flanks and persistence in getting attempts on goal. Both Pennant and Crouch played a big part (as did Kuyt) as Liverpool kept driving forward, and finally broke down Bolton’s resistance after 60 minutes. It's my hope that both Yossi and Kewell will be able to emulate Pennant's performance from the last time these two teams met.
I also hope it doesn’t take as long to break Bolton down on Sunday, as they will grow in stature the longer they keep Liverpool out, but we’ve seen against both Fulham and Porto that Liverpool’s been able to keep putting pressure on the opposition and get the late goals when the team’s been unable to make a breakthrough or get a second.
Anelka will be Bolton’s target man, and he’s behind only Benjani on the top scorers table with 7 in the league. Otherwise, I imagine we’ll see the other 10 men behind the ball. It’d be nice if Agger were back, as his pace would help against Anelka, but the backline has been the stingiest in the Premiership, only allowing six goals so far this season.
Liverpool’s defense, outside of a bad 30 minutes against Porto, has been excellent over the past month. With Aurelio again absent and Riise not in the best form, Arbeloa’s made the left back position his own, while I’ll reiterate that I thought Finnan put in his best performance of the season on Wednesday. Hyypia’s put the own goals behind him to turn back the clock in the past few games, while Carragher’s as reliable as ever.
Nolan and Nicky Hunt are suspended for Bolton, while on-loan Guthrie’s ineligible. McCann looks likely to start for Bolton despite the injury picked up yesterday. Agger, Alonso, Pennant, and Aurelio are all ruled out through injury for Liverpool.
I’ve really tried not to sound too confident, despite Bolton’s struggles and Liverpool’s play over the last month (and really, all season long in the league). Bolton has the potential to beat anyone, as shown last week, and they make the opposition suffer every time out.
But I also don’t fancy Liverpool to slip up either. The team’s worked so hard to get themselves right in the Champions League and stay unbeaten in the Prem, and the goals are finally coming, while players are returning to fitness. It’s essential Liverpool keep on this run prior to Marseille on the 11th and United on the 16th.