10am, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 11.21.09
1-1 (h) 02.22.09
3-2 Liverpool (a) 10.05.08
1-0 Liverpool (h) 05.04.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Unirea (h); 0-1 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Everton (h)
City: 1-1 Stoke (a); 1-1 Stoke (h); 2-0 Bolton (h)
Liverpool: Torres 12; Kuyt 9; Benayoun, Gerrard 5; Ngog 4; Babel, Johnson 2; Kyrgiakos, Skrtel 1
City: Tevez 13; Adebayor 9; Bellamy 6; Petrov 4; Richards, Wright-Phillips 3; Barry, Ireland, Santa Cruz 2; Garrido, Kompany, Lescott, Toure 1
Referee: Peter Walton
The referee who gave Ngog a penalty against Brum for “diving,” so Liverpool can probably plan on getting zero 50-50 calls from him.
Guess at a squad:
Carragher Skrtel Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi
I’m not saying I agree with the line-up, but chances are it looks a lot like this.
There are only three differences between this guessed side and last night against Unirea – Lucas for Aquilani, Maxi for Riera, and Insua for Aurelio. Lucas is a no-brainer: at City, against a club with immense attacking capabilities, the Brazilian’s holding qualities will be necessary in conjunction with the terrifying Mascherano. On the other hand, Maxi for Riera seems likely because of the way Liverpool’s played of late, especially considering Riera’s ineffective performance yesterday. However, given that Riera provides something different and clearly needs match fitness, I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see him keep his place.
I realize Ngog isn’t everyone’s favorite option. Only 20, he often looks out of his depth as a lone striker, incredibly reliant on support from Gerrard, Kuyt, and whomever. But Liverpool has an implausible lack of options. I highly doubt we’ll see a formation change given the strength in midfield and Benitez’s underlying principle of controlling the game. And Kuyt’s been more useful on the right; he still loses possession a bit too often for my liking, but his workrate, tracking back, ability to get into the box, and adequate crosses means he’ll probably stay on the flanks.
Gerrard looked more influential sitting deeper after Babel and Pacheco came on, and maybe there’s a case for starting him in midfield, but I doubt it’ll come in an away match against the closest competition for fourth place. We know Benitez and we know Liverpool. Keep it tight, control the game, and hope to spring a winner. It’s not quantum physics. Both Babel and Pacheco were crucial off the bench against Unirea, and I expect that to be their role on Sunday.
The only potential change in defense seems Aurelio for Insua, as we saw yesterday, but Fabio rarely plays two games in three days even when fit. His experience could be key, but he was caught upfield as often as Insua yesterday, even if Unirea didn’t have the players to punish it. Otherwise, Carra, Skrtel, and Agger seem nailed-on starters.
It will be a much more open game than yesterday’s, with City likely lining up 4-3-3, and hopefully Liverpool will be able to exploit it. City have improved under Mancini, but are still vulnerable and still concede sloppy goals, evidenced in the two recent draws against Stoke and the 1-2 loss at Hull. City are 2-1-1 in the league since losing the Carling Cup semifinal, the two wins coming at home against Pompey and Bolton.
Vieira is suspended, Petrov, Johnson, and Kompany are questionable due to injury, and Tevez is unlikely to feature as well, having traveled to Argentina with his daughter in intensive care, having been born prematurely last week. Bellamy will probably start in Tevez’s absence – just back from injury himself – and you should be terribly frightened of the former Red punishing Liverpool.
I’ve written this far too often this season, but you can’t overestimate this game’s importance. City currently sit one point above Liverpool with a game in hand. With trips to Chelsea and Arsenal on the horizon, as well as matches against Tottenham, Villa, and United still to come, City arguably has a harder run-in than Liverpool, or Spurs or Villa. It’s nearly impossible to quantity the importance of a Liverpool win. But a loss would make fourth place immeasurably more difficult.