3pm, live in the US on Setanta
Last 4 head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 01.28.09
3-2 Liverpool (h) 10.18.08
1-1 (h) 01.02.09
1-0 Liverpool (a) 09.29.07
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 Arsenal (h); 1-2 Fiorentina (h); 0-0 Blackburn (a)
Wigan: 2-2 Stoke (a); 2-3 Brum (h); 1-0 Sunderland (h)
Liverpool: Torres 10; Kuyt 5; Benayoun, Gerrard 4; Ngog 3; Babel, Johnson 2; Skrtel 1
Wigan: Rodallega 6; Boyce, Scharner 3; N’Zogbia 2; Bramble, Figueroa, Gomez, Koumas, Sinclair 1
Referee: Phil Dowd
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Once more into the breach, dear friends. Let’s hope the team’s up for it. You know, for a change.
I’m tempted to suggest the same line-up as Sunday. Despite the result, it was a good first half, and nearly Liverpool’s strongest XI. The second half abomination was down to a lack of confidence, evident after the soft equalizer, and this team desperately needs to build self-belief. Of course, I’m also tempted to suggest a radical overhaul given that damn little has gone right over the last ten weeks, but that’s not Benitez’s – or Liverpool’s – style.
Both Mascherano and Johnson picked up knocks on Sunday, but that’s not entirely why I’ve ‘left out’ Masch. I’ve left out Masch for the same reason that Liverpool started both Gerrard and Lucas in midfield against Stoke, Burnley, and Hull – to try and create some semblance of a coherent attack, and to get as many players involved in the attack as possible.
Admittedly, Wigan is a better team than Stoke, Burnley, and Hull, and those Liverpool wins came more than three months ago. And maybe it should be Masch instead of Lucas for protection in front of the back four, although I think Lucas’s ability to knit play in attack will probably be more useful tomorrow.
But with Gerrard and Aquilani on from the start, hopefully we’ll get the attacking impetus we’ve been missing. If this were the team, it’d probably end up more a 4-1-4-1 – Gerrard may even drop deeper than Aquilani more often than not – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As written in the Arsenal preview, I’m not necessarily opposed to seeing Gerrard replace Kuyt on the right with Aquilani ostensibly in Gerrard's usual role, but I don’t think it’s likely.
Even with Liverpool’s problems – especially susceptibility on the break – I wouldn't be surprised if Wigan will look to congest and stifle at Anfield with only Rodallega up top. But of course, Wigan’s top scorer, who almost won the last meeting between the clubs with an injury-time thumper off the crossbar, will provide a real threat.
Insua could come back in for Aurelio – who didn’t stand out against Arsenal – while if Johnson’s truly struggling with injury, Degen’s back in the squad (I don’t think Kelly’s available yet). But, regardless of the fullbacks, I hope to see the same Carragher-Agger central pairing. It’s clearly the first choice unit, and the first choice unit needs to keep playing together in the hopes the ship will finally right.
Wigan hasn’t been on the best of runs of late; the three results after the 9-1 mauling by Spurs were a narrow win over Sunderland, a loss at home against Brum, and a draw with Stoke when Rodallega's 90th minute penalty was saved. Of course, those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. But that Wigan’s been letting in goals – one clean sheet in the last 11 games – is welcome news.
Then again, Liverpool hasn’t had the best of luck against the Latics in recent seasons, with or without Steve Bruce. A 1-1 draw last January was culmination of an infuriating winter, and Wigan got the same result at Anfield the year before. Both draws were down to individual mistakes and late goals after Liverpool had taken a 1-0 lead. Sound familiar?
Tomorrow will be “Shankly Day” at Anfield, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his arrival. Were Liverpool to yet again find a way to underwhelm, the great man himself will probably come down from heaven to beat some sense into the team.
Don’t embarrass the club in front of Shankly.