12:15pm, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
4-2 Liverpool (a; Carling Cup) 09.25.07
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.07.07
2-0 Liverpool (h) 11.04.06
4-3 Liverpool (a; Carling Cup) 10.25.06
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 4-0 Bolton (h); 4-1 Porto (h); 3-0 Newcastle (a)
Reading: 1-1 Boro (h); 1-2 City (a); 1-3 Arse (h)
Liverpool: Torres 6; Gerrard 5; Babel, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso 2; Benayoun, Hyypia, Sissoko 1
Reading: Kitson 5; Doyle 4; Harper, Hunt, Long, Shorey 2; Bikey 1
Referee: Andre Marriner
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Hobbs Hyypia Arbeloa
Gerrard Sissoko Mascherano Kewell
Liverpool obviously can’t look past this match -- every away game in the Premiership is both tricky and of the utmost importance -- but the matches in Marseilles on Tuesday and against United next Sunday will assuredly impact on Saturday’s lineup.
Most noticeable among the suspected absences is Carra, who would miss the United game were he to be booked here. The injury he went off with against Bolton isn’t a concern, and I would imagine Carra’s clever enough to avoid a booking were it to be necessary for him to play. But Hobbs looked assured off the bench last time out, and with Agger assumed to be out for a little while longer, could do with more first team experience, especially with an old hand like Hyypia able to guide him through the match.
I was all set to guess Torres’ absence as well (yes, despite the League Cup hat trick), until the glut of articles this morning in which Benitez stated Torres is fit enough to play all 3 games next week because of his month out due to injury. This may just be mind games, and Torres might just come off the bench, but I doubt it; when Benitez says something this definitive the day before a match, it usually happens.
But I also can’t understate his importance against both Marseille and United, especially remembering how Reading’s defenders kicked him all over the pitch in September. Plus, he’s started the last three since returning from injury against Fulham, and is a player not used to playing more than 40 games a season. But, then again, he’s also Fernando Torres, certified genius, and he should have space to operate against Reading's high backline.
All 4 strikers, as usual are in contention. Kuyt scored 3 goals of his own against Reading last season, including both in the 2-0 home win. Crouch has gotten a lot of press lately, and played well starting with Torres last time out. Voronin combines well with Torres, can punish a defense’s mistake in an instant, and links up play well. A plethora of riches is probably pushing it, but I’m certainly not complaining about the inability to guess which of Liverpool’s four strikers will be deployed.
In the article linked above, Benitez also singles out Sissoko as one with the energy and fitness to play 3 games in a week at a high tempo, which I reckon is another clue as to who will start tomorrow. I’m hoping that Gerrard and Sissoko aren’t paired in the middle, as Liverpool have had some poor performances when that’s happened, and Gerrard in a free role on the right will give him the opportunity to pop up on the pitch wherever he can find space. Plus, Kewell’s done well down the left when Gerrard’s been on the right.
I’m guessing Mascherano to partner Sissoko in the middle, but with the games coming up, it easily could be Lucas as well, and the Sissoko/Lucas midfield did look a viable pairing at Newcastle. Plus, aside from Masch in for Lucas and Hobbs for Carra, my guess of a lineup is very similar to that which went out at St James’ Park.
Guessing all these changes and talking up the importance of future fixtures during the preview for a different match really doesn’t give Reading enough credit. Despite some surprising struggles this season, Reading can still be a very dangerous team. So far, they’ve beaten Everton and drawn United at Old Trafford, although they’re currently three points above the drop zone. But Kitson and Doyle are still scoring, Convey can be a hell of a talent when he’s healthy, and as said earlier, all 11 players will come ready to do battle and kick shins.
But there has to be a pragmatic approach to certain games when you’re involved in four cups and (knocking furiously on wood) potentially competing for the title. Hopefully this combination of changes and regular starters will be enough to get all three points. Again, knocking furiously on wood, but it should be.
Chances are I’ll be wrong with at best a few guesses, but I’m positive there will be some rotation, which unfortunately is still some sort of dirty word. I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt Liverpool, especially since the media will be more than happy to return to the “rotation is ruining the team” narrative, but some changes will be necessary. The games are going to come fast and thick, with the two oft-mentioned games next week before the rash of matches during the festive period.
And every one of them is important to Liverpool’s season.