01 March 2013

Liverpool at Wigan 03.02.13

12:30pm ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 11.17.12
1-2 Wigan (h) 03.24.12
0-0 (a) 12.21.11
1-1 (a) 02.12.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-1 Zenit (h); 5-0 Swansea (h); 0-2 Zenit (a)
Wigan: 3-0 Reading (a); 4-1 Huddersfield (a); 1-4 Chelsea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 18; Gerrard 7; Sturridge 4; Agger, Enrique, Henderson, Skrtel, Sterling 2; Cole, Coutinho, Downing, Johnson, ┼×ahin 1
Wigan: Kone 8; Di Santo 5; Maloney 4; Gomez 3; Boyce, McArthur, McCarthy, Ramis 2; Caldwell, Figueroa, Henriquez, Watson 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a line-up:
Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas
Downing Henderson Coutinho
Suarez

Have you had a pleasant week without Liverpool? A little nice to be spared the agitation, but kinda boring, right?

Not much has changed since we last spoke. Sturridge's fitness is again an issue, requiring a late check to see if he'll be available for tomorrow's match. I'm sure we remember what happened the last time Liverpool were without Sturridge in the league, the soul-killing 0-2 loss against West Brom.

The failings in that match mean it's unlikely that we'll see similar half measures used if Sturridge is unavailable. Henderson had been excellent on the left with Sturridge in the line-up, but suffered in against West Brom, with Shelvey unable to make any difference as the attacking midfielder. If Sturridge can't play, it seems almost certain that Coutinho will start on the left with Henderson as the most advanced midfielder. The Brazilian's ability to cause havoc in the attacking third will be crucial, hopefully adding the second goal threat that Liverpool often desperately needs.

However, if Sturridge is fit enough to start, I suspect we may see Henderson on left rather than Coutinho, unlike in the 5-0 win over Swansea. It's worth remembering that Henderson, coming on for Suso in the 36th minute, played a crucial role in the 3-0 win when these sides met in November. Wigan will aim to control possession – they actually out-passed and out-possessed Liverpool at Anfield – and Henderson's constant running, as well as his ability to track back and add a third body in midfield, could be important in breaking down Wigan's potential advantage in the middle of the park.

Otherwise, the starting XI still writes itself. Reina in goal; Carragher preferred to Skrtel, joining Johnson, Agger, and Enrique in defense; Lucas and Gerrard as the double pivot in midfield; and Downing on the right flank.

As usual, for all the praise Roberto Martinez receives, Wigan are clinging to Premiership status by its fingernails, only outside the relegation zone on goal difference. Again. They've won just one league match in 2013, last week's 3-0 victory at Reading, where they scored all three goals in the space of four minutes bracketing halftime, prior to Pogrebnyak receiving a straight red for a challenge which injured Figueroa.

This season, Martinez has almost always used the 3-4-3 formation he settled on during last season's run-in. The most likely line-up tomorrow is Al Habsi; Scharner, Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Beausejour; Maloney, Kone, Di Santo. Figueroa, however, is questionable with an ankle problem, while Ramis and Watson remain long-term casualties.

Roger Espinoza or Jordi Gomez could come in if Martinez wants to use a more defensive shape, closer to 3-5-2, replacing one of the three forwards. If Figueroa's unable to play, Alcaraz (finally recovering from a six-month groin injury), Ronnie Stam, or January signing Roman Golobart are likely to replace him, with Scharner switching to the left.

Wigan have won just twice at the DW Stadium this season: 2-1 over West Ham in October and 3-2 over Reading in November. All four of their clean sheets came away from home, including last week's 3-0 win.

Liverpool's last match against Wigan may have ended with a 3-0 win, but that scoreline certainly doesn't reflect how difficult the Latics made it for Liverpool, especially in the first half. Had Beausejour not made a mistake to allow Sterling and Suarez to counter for the first goal, it could have easily ended 0-0, as last season's away fixture did. And if Wigan to score first, it could easily be last season's home fixture all over again: an undeserved 1-2 loss which ended up being the final nail in the coffin for Liverpool's hopes of fourth.

November's 3-0 win over Wigan was Liverpool's first against this opponent in six matches, the last coming in Benitez's final season. And Liverpool's haven't won at the DW Stadium since September 2007. Wigan may be struggling in the league, but Wigan often struggles in league. And, somehow, Wigan stay up. And Wigan's struggles in the league often have no bearing on how they play against Liverpool.

Tomorrow will see the first match since Liverpool were knocked out of contention for its last possible trophy, leaving all hopes for the rest of the season concentrated on improvement in the league. The carrot's gone and all that's left is the stick, and Liverpool will be facing what's, by definition, a "bogey side."

Whether we see a determined Liverpool focused on finishing in the best possible manner or a dismal Liverpool simply going through the motions will tell us an awful lot about how the next 12 weeks will go.

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