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Liverpool: 3rd place; 57 points out of 31 games
Reading: 8th place; 44 points out of 31 games
Last 2 meetings:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 11.04.06
4-3 Liverpool (h; Carling Cup) 10.25.06
This will only be the 3rd time Liverpool and Reading have met since the two teams were founded, all coming this season.
Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 3-0 PSV (a); 4-1 Arsenal (h); 0-0 Villa (a)
Reading: 0-1 Tottenham (a); 0-0 Portsmouth (h); 1-2 Arsenal (a)
Goalscorers (league; more than one goal):
Liverpool: Crouch, Kuyt 9; Bellamy 7; Gerrard 5; Alonso, Fowler, Garcia 3; Agger, Gonzalez 2
Reading: Doyle 10; Lita 7; Sidwell 4; Harper, Ki-Hyeon 3; Hunt, Ingimarsson, Long 2
Referee: Peter Walton
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carra Agger Riise
Pennant Gerrard Mascherano Gonzalez
So do the majority of players get rested on Saturday or against PSV? I’d assume the latter, but I don’t know if it’ll really be the case in either match. Although it’s pretty much guaranteed some changes will be rung. With a 3-0 lead over PSV coming to Anfield, and an always-difficult Reading at the Majeski, it seems tomorrow should see the stronger squad.
Even though it seems madness to drop Crouch with the vein of form he’s on, I’ve a sneaking suspicion it’ll be him and Fowler against PSV. Although with the way the referee handled him in Eindhoven, you never know. That and how do you drop the in-form striker, 4 in his last two games, when Liverpool was struggling for goals the couple of games before? It’s likely Bellamy will feature if fit after the knock suffered while with Wales. And he could well be paired with Kuyt; Dirk did score twice against Reading in the league, and when Gerrard plays centrally he and Kuyt have combined well.
And I do think Gerrard will play centrally. Maybe it’s more out of hope, but Gerrard has seen more time on the right than in Europe. It seems likely Rafa will rotate here too, and I’m guessing it will be Gerrard/Mascherano against Reading and Alonso/Sissoko against PSV. Mascherano’s coming along even better than expected, could use as much time in the league as possible, and his partnership with Gerrard against Sheffield looked to have potential. I had thought that with the yellow card Mascherano picked up last Tuesday, he’d miss a game if he picked up another, but the UEFA disciplinary charts say different, so I don’t know if that will have any impact. However, Pennant will miss the semi-final if he picks up a booking.
Tactically, Mascherano against Reading and Sissoko against PSV makes sense to me. Reading are far less likely to play with 10 men behind the ball than promoted teams usually are; they like to get forward even if it is usually on the counter, but they won’t attack with the impetus PSV must. Mascherano should be in perfect position sit back in his preferred holding role to break up Reading’s opportunities. Whereas PSV won’t have that option -- they need goals, as many as possible. And Sissoko can hassle, chase, and break down possible attacks as soon as they arise in his usual destroyer role.
Thanks to the injury to Aurelio, the left side pretty much writes itself for the time being. Riise at left back, Gonzalez in midfield, with Zenden capable of playing on the left if needed. It’s probably still too soon to judge Gonzalez; with his age and his style of play, it was always going to take him a full season to truly adjust, but he’s going to have to grow a lot over the next month, because he’s going to see a lot more time.
As usual, defense is a different story. As a rule, I don’t like to see the backline changed; consistency in that department, especially when the team is as reliant as they are on the offside trap, comes from playing together as often as possible. With Arbeloa putting in some great performances lately, he might get a look in over Finnan, but I think he’ll be another to instead feature against PSV.
If asked at the beginning of the season, I would think every Reading fan would have bitten your hand off for 8th place. But it’s got to seem a let down now after going as high as 6th, and going winless in the last 6 games. I’m sure Steve Coppell’s not bothered over the UEFA Cup place, he’s said as much, and smartly referenced Ipswich each time. But he can’t be happy with the results his team has gotten recently, even though, as usual, they’ve fought every step of the way, and they’ll no doubt be up for Liverpool at their stadium.
Glen Little will miss out with an Achilles problem, but top scorer Kevin Doyle recently returned from a lengthy layoff. With Doyle, Lita, and Kitson, as well as Stephen Hunt and Steve Sidwell, Reading have players who can quickly punish any defensive lapses. Liverpool will probably see the majority of possession, but will have to keep aware on defense, because these players can, and probably will, carve out opportunities.
Seven goals in the last two games has been a much-needed tonic after the gutting loss to United and the ugly draw against Villa. When Liverpool has been able to get on a hot streak in front of goal (pretty much all of December this season, the run of 20 goals in 4 games last March), they’ve been able to make a run out of it, and look a very good side. Long may that continue here.