7:45am, live in the US on espn2
Last 4 head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 02.07.09
1-0 Liverpool (h) 10.29.08
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.22.07
0-0 (a) 09.15.07
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Wigan (h); 1-2 Arsenal (h); 1-2 Fiorentina (h)
Pompey: 1-2 Chelsea (a); 1-1 Sunderland (a); 2-0 Burnley (h)
Liverpool: Torres 11; Kuyt 5; Benayoun, Gerrard, Ngog 4; Babel, Johnson 2; Skrtel 1
Pompey: Dindane 4; Boateng, Kaboul 3; Piquionne 2; Hreidarsson, O’Hara, Yebda 1
Referee: Lee Mason
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
It’s almost the same line-up I guessed last time out, except no Aquilani, which I’m sure will be well received.
I’m far less convinced of Aqua starting than I was on Wednesday. But it’s not because Benitez hates him. It’s not because he’s a flop and can’t/won’t adapt. We all want Alberto to jump in feet first and make a difference, but he was always going to need time to settle after being declared fit. He came off the bench in the last two league games (25min against Arse and 10 against Wigan), and that’ll probably be the case tomorrow. And the much-awaited first league start will probably happen at home against Wolves next Saturday, three days before a crucial trip to Villa.
The other questions are over Torres, Johnson, Mascherano, and Aurelio. Torres should start, on the bench against Wigan so he’d be fit to for this game (and he still scored the crucial goal). Both Johnson and Babel are back in the squad, and I expect Gleninho to go right back into the team. Mascherano picked up a knock on Wednesday, already questionable for that match, but I doubt it’ll preclude him from taking part tomorrow. He’s vital away from Anfield, no matter the opposition. And that Aurelio was taken off with more than 30 minutes left in Wednesday’s game makes me think Benitez will want to use him tomorrow, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Insua start again either.
All this suggests that Wednesday’s 4-4-2 was a one-time affair. I’m interested to see Torres and Ngog paired up top – or even Torres and Kuyt (I think last game, paired with another striker, was Kuyt’s best outing in the past few months) – but 4-2-3-1 is still preferred. Especially since this’ll be away from Anfield, where Benitez teams often look to retain possession. And don’t be misled by Portsmouth’s league place.
Pompey may be propping up the table, but this is a deceptively difficult fixture, especially since it’s an early kickoff on the south coast. We all know the form Liverpool’s in. And Pompey’s looked decent in their last two outings: making Chelsea work for a 2-1 win at the Bridge on Wednesday after a last-minute draw at Sunderland last Saturday. Avram Grant’s seemingly steadied the ship since appointing himself manager three weeks ago.
Keeper David James (another former Red) should return from illness, while Kaboul will be back in central defense after a one-game suspension. No one in the side’s scoring for fun, but both Piquionne and Dindane have looked useful at times. I’ve been most impressed with Spurs loanee Jamie O’Hara, a solid midfielder who can play centrally or on the left.
No more “must win game” noise. No planning for fourth. No looking past Pompey. Just keep winning, one game at a time.