Liverpool leads 1-0 on aggregate.
1:00pm, live in the US on DirecTV channel 462 (or in HD on 462-1).
Group Stage Results:
Liverpool: 1-2 Fiorentina (h); 1-0 Debrecen (a); 1-1 Lyon (a); 1-2 Lyon (h); 0-2 Fiorentina (a); 1-0 Debrecen (h)
Unirea: 1-3 Stuttgart (a); 1-0 Sevilla (h); 1-1 Rangers (h); 4-1 Rangers (a); 1-1 Stuttgart (h); 0-2 Sevilla (a)
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 City (a); 1-0 Unirea (h); 0-1 Arsenal (a)
Unirea: 0-1 Cluj (h); 2-0 Iasi (h); 1-3 Stuttgart (a)
Goalscorers (all competitions):
Liverpool: Torres 12; Kuyt 10; Benayoun, Ngog 7; Gerrard 6; Babel 3; Johnson 2; Insua, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel 1
Unirea: Bilasco 7; Onofras 5; Semedo 4; Apostol, Brandan, Frunza 2; Galamaz, Maftei, Paduretu, Rusescu, Varga 1
Referee: Stefan Johannesson (SWE)
Guess at a squad:
Carragher Skrtel Agger Insua
Babel Gerrard Riera
So, how many changes will Liverpool make? We’re all well aware of the Premiership’s importance, and there’s yet another crucial game on Sunday, but Liverpool only has a narrow lead and any game in Romania will probably be a difficult trip.
How does Rafa “remedy” the attack? Will Aquilani start, as he did in the last leg? And will Benitez keep the same backline, which has been impressively solid, or change it up with games coming fast and thick?
The possibility of Torres starting has already been ruled out, and rightly so. I doubt Benayoun will be in the XI as well. Both should be eased back into the side, getting 15-30 minutes if the situation calls for it. Ngog’s back from the ankle sprain that kept him out over the weekend, but the recent knock and that this is in Bucharest (only two of his seven goals this season came away from Anfield: at Leeds and Debrecen) suggest Rafa will start with an attack similar to the one that faced City.
As Maxi’s ineligible for the Europa League, the only attacking change I’ve guessed is Riera on the left. His recent omissions, without suggestion of injury recurrence, have baffled, even if he was ineffective in the last leg. And if Rafa’s still hesitant to start Riera, we could see Babel on the left, Kuyt on the right, and Ngog up top. Maybe even Aurelio given Rafa’s predilection for caution; Aurelio at least seems more likely than Benayoun starting. If Liverpool had a larger lead, maybe Pacheco would start, but again, the bench is a better possibility, especially with Babel looking to get a run in the team.
Once again, I hope to see Aquilani in the middle, although I’m not opposed to the previous suggestion of playing him in the Gerrard role with Stevie deeper or out right. He seems much more likely to play in European games, giving him more time to adapt to his teammates with a more familiar style of play. And Mascherano’s been undroppable of late, even if I was terrified of him picking up a red card for the entire City match.
I feel most certain in guessing Benitez will keep the same backline. Maybe Kyrgiakos is a different (and potentially better) option away from Anfield, still a game away from returning from a league suspension, but if he didn’t start in the last leg, I doubt he will tomorrow. Besides, the back line is what’s keeping Liverpool afloat at the moment. Like in the last meeting, if there are any changes, they’ll probably come at left back. That Aurelio had little to write home about a week ago is why I’m guessing Insua tomorrow, although his delivery on set plays could be important on the road.
Unirea will undoubtedly be far more dangerous in Bucharest (it seems wrong to write “at home” given that their home stadium isn’t Europa League-complaint), but I still expect them to keep a fair few men behind the ball. They also lost to title rivals Cluj at home over the weekend, in the first game back from the league’s winter break. Left back Brandan, who played well at Anfield, is suspended, but otherwise all signs point to the same XI.
Since the demoralizing defeat at Besiktas in the ’07-08 group stage, Liverpool’s lost exactly once on European soil: to Fiorentina in October, ten games with a only single loss. That’s a reassuring statistic, especially considering Liverpool’s league troubles on the road. Let’s hope the streak continues tomorrow.