20 February 2007

Liverpool at Barcelona 2.21.2007

2:45pm. Available in the US on Setanta Sports and ESPN Deportes.

Barca is currently 1st in La Liga on goal difference.

Champions League Group Stage results:
Liverpool: 2-3 Galatasaray (a); 2-0 PSV (h); 3-0 Bordeaux (h); 1-0 Bordeaux (a); 3-2 Gala (h); 0-0 PSV (a)
Barca: 2-0 Werder Bremen (h); 2-0 Levski Sofia (a); 2-2 Chelsea (h); 0-1 Chelsea (a); 1-1 Bremen (a); 5-0 Levski (h)

Goal scorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Crouch 5; Garcia 3; Fowler, Gerrard 2; Bellamy, Gonzalez 1
Barca: Gudjohnsen, Guily, Iniesta, Ronaldinho 2; Deco, Eto’o 1 Messi, Puyol 1

European History:
Liverpool: European Cup/Champions League 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005; UEFA Cup 1973, 1976, 2001; UEFA Super Cup 1977, 2001, 2005
Barca: European Cup/Champions League 1992, 2006; Cup Winners Cup 1979, 1982, 1989, 1997; UEFA Super Cup 1992, 1997

Referee: Kyros Vassaras (GRE)

Feels like there’s little need to do a “key players” section for Barca. I imagine you’ve heard of Ronaldinho, Deco, Xavi or Puyol. Eto’o is nearing full fitness, and despite the spat with Rijkaard over whether or not he’s ready to play in the past two games, he should play here, if only as a sub due to a lack of match fitness. This game is probably why he’s wanted to rest. Messi’s also returned from injury, coming on as a sub in the last two matches.

My guess of a lineup:
Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise
Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko
Kuyt, Crouch, Bellamy

Fair warning that this is more of a complete shot in the dark than this guessing game usually is.

It looks like a 4-3-3 but it probably won’t be. Bellamy and Kuyt should play wider than usual and all three strikers will probably defend more often, and if we’re sticking to description by formation, it would look like 4-3-3, 4-4-2, or 4-5-1 depending on the situation. Due to the injuries on the left side, and the fact that games don’t come much larger than this, these are the 11 best players in the squad and they should be on the pitch. The formation will work itself out as long as everyone knows their roles. Which Benitez usually makes certain.

But just to hedge my bets, I’ll also mention that I debated guessing a nominal 3-5-2, with Hyypia in for Crouch and Finnan and Riise in wing back roles. I still could go either way, and expect the real line-up to be one of the two options. But Hyypia’s pace worries me, because if Carra and/or Agger push too far up the field to support the attack, the speed of Barca’s attack could undo the defense in a flash.

In addition, this formation would necessitate one of the three strikers on the bench, and honestly, I can’t bring myself to leave any of them out. Even though it’s probably unfair given his goal drought in Europe so far, I always see Kuyt as one of the first names on the teamsheet. Crouch was bought for games like this, critical away games where holding up the ball is essential. Also, he’s played far more often in Europe as of late, where his height is more of an advantage than in the physical Premier League. And Bellamy should figure (despite whatever nonsense you’ve read recently) due to Liverpool needing to use his pace on the counter attack (over/under: 4 offsides) and Barca’s vulnerability to speedy forwards. Valencia playing long balls over the top was their main line of attack on Sunday, and I imagine Bellamy will be employed in a similar manner.

As an aside, Mascherano has finally received clearance from the FA, but I highly doubt he’ll make his debut in this game.

I really do feel that this line-up gives Liverpool the best chance of an away goal, which will probably be essential. Of course I’d be more than satisfied with a 0-0 draw, but when Barca is under pressure, as in the Champions League games against Chelsea and Bremen to close out the group stage, they’ve come through. An away goal will give Liverpool another advantage and even more of an opportunity to turn over Barca at Anfield.

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