10am ET, live in the US on FSC
Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 09.12.10
1-1 (a) 04.04.10
2-2 (h) 11.09.09
2-2 (a) 04.26.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Arsenal (a); 3-0 City (h); 1-2 West Brom (a)
Brum: 1-3 Chelsea (a); 2-0 Sunderland (h); 1-1 Blackburn (a)
Liverpool: Kuyt 10; Meireles 5; Gerrard 4; Maxi 3; Carroll, Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Skrtel, Suarez 2; Cole 1
Brum: Gardner 7; Zigic 5; Ridgewell 4; Bowyer, Jerome, Larsson 3; Beausejour, Dann, Johnson 2; Fahey, Hleb, Phillips 1
Referee: Howard Webb (!!!)
Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Robinson
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
As if injuries would subside during the run-in. Ha. Not this season. Aurelio's unsurprisingly back on the sidelines, joining Johnson and Kelly with a hamstring injury, while Liverpool will make late decisions on Carragher and Carroll.
I actually hope Carragher doesn't play. It's not as if Liverpool are especially deep in defense at the moment, but Carra clearly had a concussion. If he can't remember that incident, he's not 'absolutely fine.' From how long he was out, it was probably a Grade II or III concussion. Rushing back from that is dangerous, to say the absolute least. If Carragher doesn't make it – which (knowing Carragher's temperament) seems unlikely – Kyrgiakos would probably start over Wilson.
Liverpool have more options if Carroll isn't fit and will probably be more cautious with the £35m man, but – like with Carragher – expect his participation. Suarez and Kuyt would probably play up top in the striker's absence, with Maxi, Shelvey, or Cole coming in on the flank, but Dalglish could also turn to Ngog. Regardless, Liverpool seem likely to stick with the 4-2-2-2 formation; it's been awhile since Kenny and Clarke threw a tactical curve ball as with three at the back.
There are obvious fears about playing two young full-backs yet again, regardless of each's impressive performance. Overplaying a young full-back is what ruined Insua's Liverpool career (that and Christian Purslow). But Liverpool truly have little choice. Johnson, Kelly, and Aurelio are all injured; Insua and Konchesky are on loan. That's five full-backs unavailable. Carragher could play on the right, Wilson could play on the left, but either would be mashing square pegs into round holes. The kids have been alright enough to merit another match ahead of those square pegs.
Birmingham suffered a hangover following the hilariously-surprising Carling Cup triumph, winless through March and booted from the FA Cup quarterfinals, but were unbeaten in April before losing at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. Two home wins over Sunderland and Bolton plus an away draw at Blackburn have seen the Midlands club up to 15th, five points out of the relegation zone.
The Brummies have a few injuries of their own. Strikers Zigic and Martins are out with groin problems, playmaker McFadden is close to but not ready for a return after missing almost the entire season through knee injury, and supposed Liverpool target Scott Dann – like so many current Liverpool defenders – has a hamstring issue.
Away from St Andrews, McLeish is likely to play 4-5-1/4-4-1-1, regardless of Birmingham's striker injuries. Hleb started behind Jerome against Chelsea, but McLeish could also pack the middle with Gardner, Ferguson, and Bowyer (using two of Larsson, Fahey, and Bentley on the flanks) and force Liverpool to carve them open. If the latter's the case, Lucas and Spearing will have a large task to ensure they're not outnumbered in the same way Lucas and Poulsen were in the reverse fixture.
And Liverpool have struggled to carve Birmingham open for a few years now. The Blues were Benitez' bogey side – never beating Brum in the league – and then stifled Hodgson's Liverpool in a dire 0-0 at St Andrews. The two clubs have played out seven consecutive league draws dating back to 2005 – the longest such streak in the league.
At Anfield, Liverpool are odds-on favorites despite this fixture's history. Picking up points at home is one of the few things this team's done consistently well (along with raising its game against better opposition). But Liverpool will have to break down determined foes, no matter Birmingham's line-up, and will probably have a lot more possession than usual (something I wrote about earlier in the week). One game is just one game, but this should tell us a lot about the progress made since August's meeting.