16 November 2012

Liverpool v Wigan 11.17.12

10am ET, not live in the US (unless you have the FoxSoccer2Go mobile app). Otherwise, delayed on FSC at 2:30pm ET.

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Wigan (h) 03.24.12
0-0 (a) 12.21.11
1-1 (a) 02.12.11
1-1 (h) 11.10.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Chelsea (a); 0-1 Anzhi (a); 1-1 Newcastle (h)
Wigan: 1-2 WBA (h); 1-0 Tottenham (a); 0-0 Bradford aet [2-4 pens] (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 8; Gerrard, Şahin, Skrtel, Sterling 1
Wigan: Kone 4; DiSanto 3; Boyce, Maloney, McArthur, Ramis, Watson 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

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

Reina's fit and back in training after missing the last seven matches, Shelvey's fit and back in training after missing last Sunday's match with a thigh problem. We're also on Lucas watch: nowhere near fit enough to play tomorrow but back in training and close enough where I've started marking the calendar with red pen, like a small child counting the days until Christmas.

Does Rodgers continue tinkering with the starting XI, as we saw with three at the back against Anzhi and Chelsea, or return to his default 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, as in the last 30 minutes on Sunday?

Despite other issues (*cough defensive errors cough susceptible to counter attacks cough*), Liverpool's main concern remains finding some support for Luis Suarez, who's currently carrying the club on his back. After the match against Chelsea, Rodgers claimed that this was the goal of Sunday's formation. Which, obviously, did not work at planned, with Liverpool only looking remotely threatening once reverting to the default formation.

In theory, given Wigan's usual 3-4-3 formation, Liverpool's 3-5-2ish system would make some sense. Liverpool played 4-2-3-1 with Suarez as the lone striker in the dismal 1-2 Anfield loss against this side in March, only scoring an equalizer after a halftime change to 4-4-2 (before sloppily conceding a second time). Wigan were able to isolate Suarez in this fixture last season, nullifying any Liverpool threat with the spare defenders and midfield control.

Still, I'd be surprised if Rodgers deviated from his usual template. Which leads me to want to suggest a few tweaks: Suso as the attacking midfielder, Gerrard or Assaidi or Shelvey in the front three, or even the XI which finished the match against Chelsea with Enrique in attack – a move that, while often frustrating, did lead to two excellent chances to win late on.

But odds are that tomorrow's XI will look fairly familiar. The most hoped-for change is Suso as the attacking playmaker, but that would leave a hole in the front three. Despite any pronouncements to the media or on Being: Liverpool, we've seen no sign that Rodgers might use Gerrard in the front three. Assaidi? Has played in just two league matches, as a late sub against Stoke and Norwich, and hasn't started since the league cup loss to Swansea. Downing? Cole? Don't make me laugh. And the above line-up guess reflects that, with the usual Şahin or Shelvey dilemma the only foreseeable question mark.

The aforementioned 3-4-3 has become Martinez's preferred formation, used in every match so far this season, whether in the league or league cup. Midfielder James McArthur and on-loan winger Ryo Miyaichi are questionable, which means the most likely XI is the same that featured in the last two matches: Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, McCarthy, Watson, Beausejour; Di Santo, Kone, Maloney. Sometimes, it's worked like a charm, as in the 1-0 victory against Tottenham two weeks ago. More often than not, it's led to a loss, albeit a narrow loss. Only United and Chelsea have beaten the Latics by two goals or more. Wigan actually have one more win than Liverpool so far this season, but four fewer draws, holding both Stoke and Everton – two teams Liverpool also drew – at home.

Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers work from similar playbooks. Rodgers built on what Martinez started at Swansea, Martinez was the other main candidate during Liverpool's summer managerial search. Three-man midfield, patient control, prioritizing possession. Top scorer Arouna Kone, formerly of PSV and Sevilla, has given them a direct option, and he and Maloney are responsible for seven of Wigan's 12 goals. Relatedly, Wigan also have the same problem as Liverpool: putting the damned ball in the damned net: averaging just over a goal per game, shut out in three matches, scoring twice in three matches, and failing scoring more than twice so far this season.

The sad fact is that Liverpool haven't been Wigan in nearly three years: a 2-1 win at Anfield in December 2009. When Rafael Benitez was the manager. Since then, three draws and two losses, against a side who finished 16th, 16th, and 15th in those three seasons. It's Liverpool's worst record against any club that's been in the league throughout that span.

While we're recounting soul-killing statistics, here's another. Liverpool have played Wigan 14 times since the Latics were promoted, with 11 players scoring 20 goals (and an own goal). Just one of those 11 players is still with the club: Luis Suarez, in March's 1-2 loss at Anfield.

We spent the run-up to last weekend's match against Chelsea talking about "bogey sides" thanks to Roberto DiMatteo. Wigan are a textbook bogey side for Liverpool, one of the worst offenders in a division filled with contenders.

And Liverpool desperately, desperately need to beat this bogey side tomorrow.

1 comment:

kevin said...

Thought henderson was excellent after coming on... I think rodgers had some words with him after the EL performances and he felt some more freedom to play his game. It also has to be said he is not an out and out cm, despite all his "defensive" shuffling.

Thought Enrique has cemented his place as well, his attacking was as usual inconsistent but his defensive aid to johnson was superb, liked seeing those two down the left together.