3pm ET, live in the US on FSC
FYI: For the second time in the last three matches, I'll have to miss this game due to prior commitments. Unlike the Newcastle abomination, I'll have a review up later in the evening. Just no live tweets or semi-immediate match write-up. This is what this season has done to me; I honestly forgot Liverpool were playing when scheduling a meeting. Whoops.
Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 12.26.11
1-3 Blackburn (a) 02.12.11
2-1 Liverpool (h) 11.10.10
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.08.09
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Villa (h); 0-2 Newcastle (a); 1-2 Wigan (h)
Blackburn: 0-3 West Brom (a); 0-2 United (h); 1-2 Bolton (a)
Liverpool: Suarez 8; Bellamy 6; Gerrard 5; Carroll 3; Adam, Kuyt, Maxi, Skrtel 2; Coates, Henderson, Johnson 1
Blackburn: Yakubu 14; Hoilett 6; Formica, Pedersen 3; Dunn, Goodwillie, Nzonzi, Rochina 2; Dann, Hanley, Vukcevic 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Skrtel Agger Aurelio
Henderson Shelvey Spearing Downing
How much will Liverpool change its lineup with Saturday's semifinal just over the horizon?
Granted, Liverpool have changed its lineup (and formation) with little rhyme or reason this season, whether there's been another match three days or a week later, whether the team's played well or poorly in the previous outing. Accordingly, Dalglish said in pre-match quotes that the team selection will be a late decision.
So, my convoluted selection logic from back to front. Doni's an obvious starter during Reina's suspension; that one costly flap shouldn't allow Brad Jones to sneak in. Flanagan still appears to be the only fit right back. Skrtel rarely needs rest and Agger needs game time. Enrique, on the other hand, has seen his form drop precipitously of late, and might well be replaced by Aurelio, if possible. Agger at left-back, where he played as a substitute on Saturday, isn't outside the realm of possibility either.
It's near-impossible to gauge without seeing training or fitness tests, but Gerrard seems one of a few who should definitely be rested, having played the last seven since missing the Arsenal match, one of just two matches he's missed since returning from injury in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day (the other was the 3-0 win at Wolves). Without Gerrard out, Liverpool would be limited to Henderson, Shelvey, and Spearing in midfield, with the former likely to play on the right if Liverpool revert to the 4-4-2, partly because of Dalglish's preference for a lopsided formation and partly because Kuyt is far more likely to start against Everton.
Carroll should also come back in after his relegation to the bench against Villa, while Suarez could be another who's rested for the weekend, with Bellamy starting in his place. But Suarez rarely misses games due to fatigue, and had the added benefit of an unscheduled winter break. Plus, the last time we saw the Carroll-Bellamy pairing was at Bolton, a memory few will treasure. Suarez and Carroll started up front when these sides last met, with Henderson and Adam in midfield because of a lack of options and Downing and Maxi on the flanks. Despite Maxi's usual quiet influence, I'd be surprised if he featured here, again because of his more-than-likely exit at the end of the season.
Blackburn, currently in 18th on goal difference, almost always play 4-4-1-1, with Hoilett or Dunn behind top-scorer Yakubu. Chances are tomorrow's lineup will mirror that deployed in the 0-2 home loss against United a week ago: Robinson; Orr, Dann, Hanley, Olsson; Pedersen, Nzonzi, Lowe, Olsson; Hoilett; Yakubu. Both strikers will probably be isolated for long stretches, but both are able to conjure something from nothing: Hoilett with his pace, Yakubu with his strength and experience. Blackburn are also dangerous on set plays, where Liverpool have conceded slightly less than a quarter of their goals, including in the reverse fixture (albeit from an Adam own goal). Both center-backs are excellent in the air, as is Yakubu, while Pedersen is outstanding from direct strikes. Other than long-term casualties Salgado and Grella, Rovers have no injury concerns.
Saturday's draw against Villa was quite similar to the last meeting between Liverpool and Blackburn, the sixth of Liverpool's nine infuriating home draws. Liverpool as the "better" side, but conceding an unlikely first on an aberrant attack, struggling for an equalizer, and advancing no further. Of course, that's similar to more than a few results this season.
Given Liverpool's fortunes against the bottom quarter of the table – v Villa, at Bolton, at QPR, home and away against Wigan, and, yes, home to Blackburn – this match is arguably more frightening than Saturday's much more important fixture. Liverpool have handed out so many free points to Blackburn's relegation rivals that it'll feel almost unfair if they don't do the same for Rovers.
After Everton's demolition of Sunderland today, Liverpool are four points behind the Toffees in eighth, only ahead of Norwich on goal difference. And if Fulham somehow beat Chelsea later today, they'll be in ninth, just a point and goal difference away from the bottom half of the table. Admittedly, the only difference in seventh and tenth is in morale – the pay-outs, the only tangible reward at this point, are nearly identical – but Liverpool's biggest problem has often been morale. After such an interminable stretch of poor form and results, Liverpool simply need to start winning. Simply. Ha. But both good and bad results lend to a self-perpetuating cycle and, after an infinitesimally heartening "comeback" on Saturday, Liverpool need to get on one of the good cycles for a change.