1:00pm, live in the US on DirecTV channel 462 (or in HD on 462-1).
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Wigan (a); 2-1 Blackburn (h); 3-1 Unirea (a)
Lille: 1-1 St Etienne (a); 1-2 Auxerre (h); 1-1 Fenerbahce (a)
Round of 32:
Liverpool: 3-1 Unirea (a); 1-0 Unirea (h)
Unirea: 1-1 Fenerbahce (a); 2-1 Fenerbahce (h)
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)
Lille: 3-1 Slavia Prague (h); 1-3 Valencia (a); 2-3 Genoa (a); 3-0 Genoa (h); 5-1 Slavia (h); 1-1 Valencia (h) [Europa League]
Liverpool: Benayoun, Babel, Ngog 2; Gerrard, Kuyt, Mascherano 1
Lille: Gervinho 5; Frau, Hazard, Vittek 3; Cabaye, Dumont, de Melo, Obraniak 2; Balmont, Beria, Rami, Souquet 1
Referee: Claus Bo Larsen (DEN)
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
As much as I’d like to play pundit and guess starts for Aquilani, Agger, Babel, and possibly Pacheco, I know better. It’s Rafa, it’s a knockout round, it’s Europe, and it’s away from Anfield.
Naturally, I’d love to see Benitez change his stripes, throw caution to the wind, and punish players who looked utterly awful last time out. I’m hopeful he’ll loosen the reins in the Premiership on Monday given how underwhelming that campaign’s been, but I doubt it’ll happen tomorrow. What’s more likely is ‘same as it ever was,’ with the customary few selections forced by injury.
Once again, I doubt Aquilani will start, for the usual reasons. Safety first in away matches, and Lucas and Masch can provide a platform that’s hard to break down. That Benayoun missed training and is a doubt means Babel should start on the left, especially since Riera’s been completely out of favor, but if Yossi’s available, he’ll probably be preferred.
And with Aurelio injured, there are no other options at left back to spell the ill-at-ease Insua. Agger could return from injury, but Kyrgiakos has been Liverpool’s most consistent defender this season, and Rafa’s not dropping Carragher, especially when the team’s struggling and Carra’s making threats to leave in the media. Hopefully Johnson will be fit enough for 90 minutes, but if he’s getting forward, Carra and Kyrgiakos can be exposed by pace.
Lille have lost once at home in last 16 European fixtures, to United in the ‘06-07 CL. They’re currently fifth in Ligue 1, five points behind Bordeaux (although Bordeaux have two games in hand). They also have the same number of league points as Liverpool (48) despite having played two less games.
Lille’s recent results have tailed off since a tremendous winter run, winning 10 of 12 league games since the end of November before losing to Auxerre and drawing St. Etienne in their last two. The team’s been in the Europa League since the third qualifying round, starting its run in late July. Defender Adil Rami scored a late equalizer in Turkey to progress to this stage. I wish Liverpool still scored late goals.
Young winger Eden Hazard, who’ll probably line up on the right (against Insua), is the obvious danger man, but Frau and midfielder Mavuba (who Liverpool faced when he was at Bordeaux) are also key players. Star striker Gervinho is out with a knee injury, as is forward Tulio de Melo. The two Pierres – Pierre-Alain Frau and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – will likely start in their absence.
Make no mistake, anything can happen. Based on recent precedent, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Liverpool deliver another sub-par performance. They’ve been simply awful away from home almost all season. But maybe we’ll see an actual reply. Maybe Monday was rock bottom and the ream responds. Stranger things have happened. And Liverpool, despite what we’ve seen of late, still has the talent.