2:45pm, live in the US on DirecTV. Because it’s basically meaningless, it’s not on either FSC or Setanta. It’s on one of those stations (channel 462 in this case; 462-1 in HD) that show every Champions League and Europe League game. I sincerely apologize for rubbing it in if you can’t get or afford DirecTV, but I adore it.
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Blackburn (a); 2-0 Everton (a); 1-0 Debrecen (a)
Fiorentina: 2-0 Atalanta (h); 0-1 Inter (a); 1-0 Lyon (h)
Liverpool: 1-0 Debrecen (a); 1-1 Lyon (a); 1-2 Lyon (h); 0-2 Fiorentina (a); 1-0 Debrecen (h)
Fiorentina: 1-0 Lyon (h); 5-2 Debrecen (h); 4-3 Debrecen (a); 2-0 Liverpool (h); 0-1 Lyon (a)
Liverpool: Babel, Benayoun, Kuyt, Ngog 1
Fiorentina: Mutu 3; Gilardino, Jovetic 2; Dainelli, Marchionni, Montolivo, Santana, Vargas 1
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN)
That’s an unfamiliar name. I think he worked the WC qualifier between Ukraine and England, which England lost 0-1.
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Without a doubt, the least excited I’ve ever been for a Liverpool match. Other than the sheer delight of watching Liverpool, Aquilani’s first start seems the only enticement. I’m tempted to suggest even more changes, a la the Carling Cup, but the first team players aren’t going to hit any sort of stride by sitting on the bench, and only a few should be protected for Sunday’s match against Arsenal.
But, yeah, the big news is that Aquilani’s seemingly ready. I tried to rationalize his lack of appearances in the comments of Saturday’s match review – I do think there’s a rationalization – and I’m not surprised this is the match where he starts for the first time. He’s fit and familiar with Italian opposition, it’s an inconsequential match, and both Lucas and Mascherano could do with a rest. Lucas has started every single Premiership and Champions League match so far.
Which is half of the reason I’m suggesting Mascherano paired with Aquilani in the middle. Like Insua, who Benitez also mentioned today, Lucas is one of those players who’s started more games than Benitez probably wanted. The other reason is defense; yes, Fiorentina’s already qualified, but Mascherano’s holding abilities will still be more necessary than Lucas. Maybe we’ll see Spearing or Plessis, but I’d rather Aquilani partner someone he’ll be playing with regularly.
It seems as if Torres will only be fit for the bench (which is good news; he’s improved enough to be involved, but Benitez won’t risk him from the start). In his absence and with the lack of goals, I’m tempted to suggest 4-4-2 with Kuyt and Ngog up top (Voronin hasn’t been in the squad since the draw against Lyon, and I haven’t seen any reports of injury), some combination of Benayoun, Riera, and El Zhar on the flanks (Babel’s still injured), and Aquilani and Mascherano in central midfield. I obviously think Gerrard needs the game off to further recuperate, but with Riera picking up a knock against Blackburn, I don’t know if that’s possible.
But if 4-2-3-1 is truly the way forward, Liverpool needs to use the system whether it’s the first team or the reserves. Arsenal plays like Arsenal whether they’re facing Chelsea or it’s the kids in the Carling Cup. Similar goes for United. That’s why I’m hesitant to suggest changes, although injuries have certainly limited Liverpool’s options. Maybe El Zhar will start on the right after his cameo against Blackburn, but El Zhar on the right means Kuyt’s probably out. We all know Kuyt’s never left out.
As with the rest of the line-up, I’m tempted to guess some reserves in defense. Cavalieri looks the most likely given the circumstances and Benitez’s aforementioned comments, along with Insua (with Dossena, also familiar with Fiorentina, possibly starting). But I’d rather the same backline for consistency. After such a shaky start, Liverpool’s kept three straight clean sheets with Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua, and Reina.
How strong Fiorentina’s team will be remains uncertain. With a win, Fiorentina could top the group. A draw would do it if Lyon doesn’t beat Debrecen by at least two goals. But I imagine La Viola will be happy with qualification, rest players, and focus on the fight for fourth in the league (sound familiar? – except for the qualification part, of course). Jovetic, who scored twice in the last meeting, is fit again, but Adrian Mutu’s still out after knee surgery. Fiorentina’s starting XI over the weekend was Frey, De Silvestri, Dainelli, Kroldrup, Pasqual, Santana, Donadel, Montolivo, Vargas, Jovetic, and Gilardino.
After failing to qualify for the knockout stage for the first time under Benitez, it’s hard to argue that Liverpool doesn’t deserve their fate and this meaningless fixture. All I can hope for is no more injuries going forward. If the team continues the unbeaten streak started at the end of October, all the better for morale and momentum. But it’s this weekend’s fixture that truly matters.