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Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 02.21.10
2-2 (h) 11.21.09
1-1 (h) 02.22.09
3-2 Liverpool (a) 10.05.08
Referee: Phil Dowd
Guess at the line-up:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Kelly
Kuyt Lucas Mascherano Jovanovic
Obviously, the main question is who plays in the hole with Cole banned for the next three league games, as I don't expect Hodgson to change the 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 formation used in every game so far. I would have guessed Aquilani prior to his loan, but now it seems that the options are Gerrard, Maxi, Pacheco, or maybe even Kuyt. After getting used to Gerrard behind the striker for the last two seasons, that's my initial guess, but it's impossible to be certain so soon into Hodgson's tenure. That Torres looked fit in his 45-minute cameo against Trabzonspor can only be a good thing, and without news to the contrary, I'm hoping he finally makes his return to the starting XI.
With Mascherano likely to play despite picking up a minor injury against Arsenal and if Gerrard's likely to play in the hole, the other midfield spot would be filled by either Poulsen or Lucas. I'm naturally inclined to believe the marginally more-creative (and more Liverpool-experienced) Lucas will start, but on the road against tough opposition, Hodgson may want two out-and-out destroyers. However, Poulsen's lack of match fitness after a full game on Thursday makes his participation improbable.
As much as I think Agger's a far stronger option than Aurelio or Kelly at the moment, if he's had a grade two concussion, I don't want him anywhere near the field for his own sake. It may have been a week since the injury, but I doubt it's been a week since his headaches cleared up. I've had concussions (you may be able to tell from my writing style); it is not an injury to be trifled with. That Aurelio, lacking match practice and looking out-of-sorts for long stretches on Thursday, played 90 minutes against Trabzonspor leads me to question his availability tomorrow. Even in the best of circumstances under Benitez a couple of years back, Fabio rarely played two games in four days. Which would leave Kelly as the lone option. It's a big ask for the youngster to start at left back against Manchester City in Manchester, but that's the squad depth at the moment, and, honestly, I'd trust Martin Kelly a lot more than most youngsters based on past performances.
City played 4-3-3 against both Tottenham and Timisoara. Barry, De Jong, and Yaya Toure were the midfield three in both; Tevez, Silva, and Wright-Phillips were up front against Spurs while Tevez, Silva, Adebayor started on Thursday. Balotelli picked up a knock late in the Europa League, after scoring the winner on his debut, which makes him questionable, but likely to play, for Monday. Boateng, Bridge, and Kolarov all are injured, making Zabaleta the likely left-back, although Lescott can do the job there if needed.
City's money, and the players they've purchased, make tomorrow a tough ask, even if they haven't quite gelled and needed some spectacular saves from Joe Hart to come away from Tottenham with a 0-0 draw. This will be their first home match of the season and they'll undoubtedly up for it, no matter which of Mancini's millionaires starts.
Hopefully, they'll continue to need time to settle as a team, and Liverpool can take advantage will a well-drilled defense and quick counter attack. Hodgson's record, despite being with "smaller clubs," shows that he'll first and foremost set up to be tough to beat, which is probably the right way to go about this match. If Torres is fit and if Gerrard is playing further forward, anything can happen on the break. Because no matter how hard of a start to the season Liverpool has or the circus still surrounding the club, a draw and a loss would be no way to start the league season.