10am EST, live in the US on Setanta
Last 4 head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 01.12.08
2-0 Liverpool (h) 04.18.07
0-0 (a) 11.18.06
2-0 Liverpool (h) 12.10.05
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Inter (h); 1-2 Barnsley (h); 0-0 Chelsea (a)
Boro: 0-0 Sheffield Utd (a); 1-0 Fulham (h); 1-1 Newcastle (a)
Liverpool: Torres 12; Gerrard 8; Babel, Benayoun, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso, Crouch 2; Hyypia, Sissoko 1
Boro: Downing, Tuncay 4; Aliadiere, Wheater 3; Arca, Mido 2; Boateng, Cattermole, Hutchinson, Huth, Young 1
Referee: Lee Mason
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Skrtel Hyypia Arbeloa
Pennant Gerrard Mascherano Benayoun
With Carragher suspended, Liverpool will have to make changes in defense. There are differences in who’s available according to the BBC and the official site.
The BBC says Skrtel’s still out (and they say it’s an ankle problem, while the official site reported it was a calf injury last week) while the official site expects his return. Although Agger’s close to coming back (and featured in the same story that mentions Skrtel’s fitness), he won’t be risked tomorrow.
If the BBC’s accurate Arbeloa, who’s just back from a few weeks absent, will probably be forced into central defense partnering Hyypia. But I’ll trust the official site first, and if Skrtel is fit to play, I’m hoping Arbeloa will return to left back. I can’t see Finnan left out after his performance Tuesday, so he should be back on the right.
Whoever starts in defense will most likely come up against £12m striker Afonso Alves in his first start for Boro after coming on as a sub against both Fulham and Sheffield. Alves lives and dies by his pace on the counter-attack and scored frequently in both the Swedish and Dutch leagues. Liverpool will have to keep tabs on him.
Boro’s potential on the counter is a big reason why I think Mascherano will start despite Liverpool’s excellent record at Boro at home. The priority will be on the attack and having players like Torres, Gerrard, and whoever starts on the flanks getting forward at every opportunity, but Liverpool will have to keep tight at the back against Boro’s break, and Mascherano is key to that.
Boro’s defense, featuring Wheater, Pogatetz, and Huth (who still has to pass a late fitness test) in the center, is very good in the air, which we saw last month at the Riverside when Wheater and Huth ate up long balls pumped out of Liverpool’s half.
Liverpool looked most threatening when players like Babel and Torres were running at defenders. I don’t know whether Babel will be on from the whistle having started in the last three games, but players like he, Pennant, and Benayoun, whoever starts, must have good performances.
Most importantly, Liverpool will have to be more cohesive than in the last meeting. Liverpool’s problems since mid-December have been much discussed, but many were on display at the Riverside last month, especially with Liverpool looking disjointed, unable to string passes together, and almost apathetic.
A good performance at Chelsea, and the win over Inter a few days back (we’ll ignore the Barnsley incident) has seen Liverpool look capable turning it around. The team’s been better top to bottom, has looked like they want it more, and has been playing smarter. And once again, Liverpool will have to be smarter, as Boro will most likely pack the defense and force Liverpool to work their way through them, like many teams do when they come to Anfield, and where Liverpool’s struggled at times this season.
It’s necessary that progress continues as Liverpool looks to secure Champions League qualification for next season.