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Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 04.04.10
2-2 (h) 11.09.09
2-2 (a) 04.26.08
0-0 (h) 09.22.07
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 West Brom (h); 2-1 Trabzonspor (a); 0-3 City (a)
Brum: 2-2 Bolton (a); 3-2 Rochdale (h); 2-1 Blackburn (h)
Referee: Mark Halsey
Halsey's one of the few PL refs I actually like. Which is probably a bad sign. But let's hope the good feelings from refereeing Carra's testimonial remain.
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Agger Konchesky
Maxi Gerrard Jovanovic
Is Birmingham still Liverpool's bogey side now that Benitez is gone?
Liverpool never beat the Brummies in the league while Rafa was here – just two cups victories at St. Andrew's (including one 7-0 mauling). Otherwise, there have been six draws and two losses since '04/05, with both losses coming in Benitez's first season.
To throw out another heart-warming statistic, it's been nearly a year since Birmingham last lost at home – to Bolton on September 26 – one of their two home losses last season (the other was 0-1 to Villa earlier that month). They picked up draws against Chelsea, United, Arsenal, Tottenham, and City in addition to the (im)memorable 1-1 against Liverpool last April. And to further raise spirits, Liverpool are always fantastic after international breaks, aren't they?
Kuyt's injury should mean a like-for-like replacement with Maxi on the right. Granted, the two aren't similar players, but they're competing for the same position. Maxi offers more width and more intricate passing, even if I'll continue to rant that Kuyt's underrated; he's not just a 'big game player,' he's fairly crucial to how Liverpool play no matter the opposition. He's the perpetual target for punts forward from Carragher or Reina, and chips in with crucial assists against the likes of, say, West Brom. But there's been a clamor to see what Maxi can do with a run of games since he signed, and I'm interested to see it as well. The other alternatives are Babel – who Hodgson seemingly sees more as a striker – or Pacheco – although the subs bench looks a more likely option for Dani at this stage.
Once again, with Cole suspended, I expect to see Gerrard "in the hole." It was hit-and-miss against West Brom: one, because it was his first time playing there under Hodgson and two, because of the troubles the Lucas/Poulsen midfield had linking play. But I still think he's best suited to "partner" Torres in this position – I don't need to say that the two of them have combined fantastically in the past – despite increasing time (and increasing dominance) from a central midfield role, especially in England's two recent international matches (coincidentally, without Lampard eating up space).
Sunday should see debuts for both Konchesky and Meireles. I'm far more certain about Konchesky's inclusion give the player's familiarity with the league and manager, and time spent at Melwood during the last week. But Meireles played a draining (both mentally and physically) 180 minutes for Portugal over the international break. While I assume the question is Poulsen or Lucas, there's just as good a chance it'll be Poulsen and Lucas again, despite our (my?) reservations over the pairing. At the least, that pairing should be more effective away from Anfield. And if it's Poulsen or Lucas, my guess is the natural destroying talents of Denmark's captain will win out, but that is a guess, and it's a guess again based on his experience with Hodgson.
The only question about the backline seems Agger or Skrtel partnering Carragher. I think Agger's the better defender as well as better at bringing the ball out of defense, which should lessen the reliance on route 1 football, but he's been deployed at left back so far this season and could still be suffering from the effects of concussion, despite playing twice for Liverpool and once for Denmark in the meantime. Skrtel also seemingly offers more aerial defense against the likes of 6'6" Nikola Zigic – although that could just as easily be an argument for the inclusion of Kyrgiakos.
Last April's draw at Birmingham was the last time Liverpool played 4-4-2 until the mauling at Manchester City. And yes, that was the game which led to those lovely animated gifs of Gerrard's reaction when Torres was subbed off in the 65th minute with the match level. Just felt I should note.
Birmingham will be without their star new signing, as Alex Hleb picked up a knock during the international break. But Chile's impressive World Cup winger Jean Beausejour is available – and is a pacey threat who prefers to play wide but can also start centrally. Otherwise, as usual with McLeish's currently-unbeaten side, the team pretty much writes itself. The back four's consistently been Carr, Dann, Roger Johnson, and Ridgewell, while Craig Gardner's been excellent in midfield and Cameron Jerome can score goals from next to nothing when he's in the mood – evidenced in last year's 2-2 draw at Anfield.
No matter expectations or form, recent history's proven any positive result at Birmingham is a good result. This will be a difficult, cagey match if past is any precedent. But, as often written, Liverpool has to continue momentum built up with two hard-fought victories in the last two matches, despite the week off for exceptionally necessary and important international matches.