28 September 2012

Liverpool at Norwich 09.29.12

10am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 04.28.12
1-1 (h) 10.22.11
2-1 Liverpool (a) 01.03.05
3-0 Liverpool (h) 09.25.04

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 West Brom (a); 1-2 United (h); 5-3 Young Boys (a)
Norwich: 1-0 Doncaster (h); 0-1 Newcastle (a); 0-0 West Ham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 2; Skrtel 1
Norwich: Jackson, Snodgrass 1

Referee: Mike Jones

Beach ball, winless in all five matches Jones has been in charge of (four losses, one draw), etc etc

Guess at a line-up:
Reina
Johnson Coates Skrtel Enrique
Allen Şahin
Gerrard
Sterling Suarez Assaidi

Liverpool will have to cope with the three injuries incurred against Manchester United, but at least two appear to be far less serious than initially expected. Martin Kelly is definitely out, and will be for most if not all of the season, after tearing his ACL. But Fabio Borini is "50/50" due to his swollen ankle and Agger "has a good chance" of playing.

Which is good news for the latter two, but I still wouldn't risk either. Especially Agger; even if he's the 'least' injured, we're all well aware of his problems in the past. He's incredibly important to Liverpool's defense, and would probably be missed against Norwich, but that importance means that Liverpool should do nothing to risk his future in order to play tomorrow.

Which means that the still-shaky defense is likely to see two changes. Either way, Johnson looks likely to move back to his preferred position on the right, where he's far more effective, and makes Liverpool a far better side. But the left-back position is up in the air: either Enrique is finally over his knee problem, Robinson keeps his place after a decent, improving performance against West Brom, or Downing plays as a makeshift fullback. None of the options fill me with total confidence. I don't trust that Enrique's truly fit, I'm skeptical whether Robinson can play two first-team matches in three days, and Downing remains Downing, no matter the position. I guess I'm hoping the Spaniard's fit, but if not, Robinson will probably remain in the side. The second change would be Coates in place of Agger, the same change made when the Dane was suspended against Manchester City. I'd be very surprised if Carragher were preferred; if Rodgers has enough confidence in Coates to start him against the defending league champions, he should be confident enough to start him at Norwich.

This would be the first league match Borini hasn't started in, requiring a change of personnel in Liverpool's weakest area of the squad. Assaidi seems the most likely beneficiary, excellent against both Billy Jones and Craig Dawson on Wednesday, stretching play, taking on defenders, and providing the crucial assist for Şahin's winner. Either Suso or Pacheco could play if Assaidi's unable to start again after Wednesday's exertions; Sterling would most likely move back to the left flank if that's the case, but all three can play on either side. Downing's also a possibility in the position as well, but – as sadly usual – the less said about him the better.

There seem to be two options for the midfield three with Shelvey's suspended. Şahin could start again after his two-goal man of the match performance against West Brom, which would probably push Gerrard higher up the pitch. But, like with Robinson, I'm not totally convinced Rodgers will start him twice in three days; he's still finding his feet after his previous injury-plagued season and sparingly featured in Real Madrid's preseason. The other option is throwing Suso, so effective in substitute appearances against United and West Brom, to the lions, starting him as a direct replacement for Shelvey. Henderson's also in contention, and would play a similar role as Şahin in the above scenario, but I think the other two options are more likely.

It feels odd to write about another club's struggles after Liverpool's well-documented issues, but Norwich are one of the few sides to have started the season as badly. The Canaries have three draws to Liverpool's two, but only the 1-1 against Tottenham provided any boost. Norwich didn't play badly in a 1-0 loss at Newcastle last week, and were at least very solid in the narcolepsy-inducing 0-0 against West Ham, but the demoralizing 5-0 hammering by Fulham and disappointing 1-1 against QPR stand out in the memory. Like Liverpool, outside of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad opening day, Norwich's elephant-in-the-room is goal-scoring. The Canaries are one of just two sides that have scored fewer goals than Liverpool, with two through five games while Liverpool have four and QPR three.

Norwich's lineup against Newcastle is a fairly safe guide to guess how they'll line up tomorrow: Ruddy; Martin, Garrido, Bassong, Barnett; Johnson, Howson; Surman, Hoolahan, Snodgrass; Morison. Bassong will undergo a late fitness test, as will Anthony Pilkington, after picking up an injury early on against Newcastle. In addition, on-loan striker Harry Kane is out for at least another month. If Bassong misses out, Michael Turner – signed from Sunderland over the summer – will start in his stead. Either Grant Holt or Simeon Jackson could be picked ahead of Steve Morison in Norwich's attempt to find goals from somewhere. Holt and Jackson sometimes start together – 0-0 West Ham, 1-1 Tottenham, 1-1 QPR – with Jackson usually dropping deeper, but it seems more likely that Hughton will play with a lone striker against Liverpool. Even though it's a different manager, that's what Norwich did in both meetings with Liverpool last season.

Liverpool's last clean sheet in the league came in this fixture, all of nine matches ago. The side that day was Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Shelvey, Henderson; Bellamy, Gerrard, Downing; Suarez. At least two of those players definitely won't start due to Shelvey's suspension and Bellamy not being with the club anymore; most likely it'll be five, maybe six, of the same XI. But what won Liverpool that match will need to remain consistent: Suarez's link-up with Gerrard – frequently so crucial to Liverpool's fortunes – and, more importantly, ruthless finishing. And Liverpool need that sort of ruthless performance to kickstart its league campaign, continuing on from the confidence boost earned in the midweek cup comeback. The hellish five-match start is over, but that certainly doesn't mean points will fall into Liverpool's lap.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gerrard should be in the goalscorers line.