11 May 2013

Liverpool at Fulham 05.12.13

10am ET, not live on TV in the US. Delayed on FSC at 2:30pm, but otherwise, streams.

Last four head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (h) 12.22.12
0-1 Fulham (h) 05.01.12
0-1 Fulham (a) 12.05.11
5-2 Liverpool (a) 05.09.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Everton (h); 6-0 Newcastle (a); 2-2 Chelsea (h)
Fulham: 2-4 Reading (h); 0-1 Everton (a); 0-1 Arsenal (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 23; Gerrard 9; Sturridge 7; Henderson 5; Agger, Downing 3; Coutinho, Enrique, Skrtel, Sterling 2; Borini, Cole, Johnson, ┼×ahin 1
Fulham: Berbatov 13; Ruiz 5; Sidwell 4; Duff, Kacaniklic, Rodallega 3; Baird 2; Karagounis, Richardson, Riether 1

Referee: Mark Halsey

Guess at a line-up:
Reina
Johnson Skrtel Carragher Enrique
Henderson Lucas
Downing Coutinho Borini
Sturridge

At the least, Liverpool will be replacing at least two near ever-present starters for the next two matches. By now, I assume you've read that both Gerrard and Agger have been shut down for the season, the former now the third Liverpool player to undergo shoulder surgery this season, the latter receiving "proactive back injections."

Agger will seemingly be replaced by Skrtel or Coates, and probably by the former. Skrtel's hardly featured since Carragher's return to the XI; his only starts since January were in losses at Zenit and Southampton, plus a 10-minute substitute appearance in last week's derby. But Coates hasn't been seen at all since the 2-3 loss to Oldham in the FA at the end of January. The last time Skrtel started a match that Liverpool won was on January 2, when Liverpool beat Sunderland 3-0. The last time Coates started a match that Liverpool won was the 2-1 FA Cup victory at Mansfield Town four days later. It's been a while.

There also appear to be two options for replacing Gerrard: either Henderson or Shelvey starts with Lucas in midfield. The official site hints that it'll be Shelvey, which would see Liverpool most likely keep the same front four, although Borini could possibly replace Henderson as well. The other options are Henderson in Gerrard's role, with Borini taking his left-sided berth, or with Shelvey as the central attacking midfielder and Coutinho on the left.

With two quasi-meaningless games to play, Rodgers may make more changes – Suso, Wisdom, Assaidi, maybe even Coady for Lucas – to give the young and/or out-of-favor more playing time, but I'd be surprised if Rodgers went that route. Liverpool are still building a side, building a style, and two end-of-season quasi-meaningless games will still help them accomplish that. If handled correctly. It's one thing to allow crucial players needed surgery/treatment with the season basically over, but wholesale lineup changes are quite another entirely.

Fulham are winless in their last six matches, with five losses and a draw. The two goals tallied in the last Saturday's home defeat against to Reading were the club's first goals in more than 300 minutes of football, previously held scoreless in losses to Everton, Arsenal, and Chelsea. Losses which have made them one of three teams to lose four Premier League matches in a row this season, along with Norwich in December and Reading on two separate occasions.

Karagounis and Petric are doubtful, Davies, Dejagah, and Diarra are out injured, and Sidwell is suspended. Given Fulham's problems in central midfield, Karagounis will probably start if at all possible, but if not, it seemingly will have to be Emmanuel Frimpong who partners Eyong Enoh, who's on loan from Ajax. In a pinch, Kieran Richardson can also play in central midfield, but he hasn't started in that position since… Liverpool beat Fulham 4-0 in December. Chris Baird also started in midfield in the reverse fixture, but he hasn't played since February 23, and has signed a pre-contract agreement with West Brom to join them after the season.

Which makes Fulham's most likely XI Schwarzer; Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Enoh, Karagounis; Emanuelson, Ruiz, Kacaniklic; Berbatov. As mentioned above, Frimpong, Richardson, or possibly Baird could start in place of Karagounis if need be, while Duff could feature on the flank rather than Emanuelson or Kacaniklic, although the latter two have started more matches recently. Incidentally, two of those suspected starters are ex-Liverpool players: John Arse Riise (I wanna know…) and Alex Kacaniklic. Which always makes me nervous.

We're finally in the home stretch. There are just two matches left in this roller coaster season, where Liverpool struggled at the start and continue to struggle against the top sides, but have also shown massive improvement in both scoring goals and beating teams below them in the table. All season long, we've seen incremental progress. Too incremental in some cases, but progress all the same. No matter how unimportant the next two matches appear, Liverpool still need to finish as strongly as possible to help cement that progress going into next season. A match against as side gasping for air as the season ends, followed by a final match against the side currently in 20th place, seems a good way to do so.

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