14 August 2007

Liverpool at Toulouse 08.15.07

10:30am EST. Don’t think it’s on TV in the US. GolTV might air it; it’s listed on their main page, but not in their schedule nor on SoccerTV.com. Come on dodgy internet streams…

Last matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Villa (a)
Toulouse: 1-0 Lyon (h), 1-3 Valenciennes (a)

Referee: Kyros Vassaras (GRE)

You may remember Vassaras from Liverpool’s match in Barcelona last season.

Guess at a squad
Finnan Carra Agger Riise
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Kewell
Crouch Voronin

Well, now the media will get their opportunity to shout from the rooftops about rotation. I’ve little doubt that the main players left out of the Villa game will play here. That should mean starts for Crouch, Mascherano, and Kewell (if he’s actually fit), and a first-team debut (obviously, I’m not counting preseason) for Benayoun. There’s also the matter of the game 4 days later.

Even though Crouch sometimes has troubles in Europe, as referees consistently call fouls against him solely because of his height, I have to believe he’ll start here. Toulouse would struggle to match him in the air at full strength, which they aren't at. According to Paul Doyle, their two starting center backs are out injured, and one of their replacements, Herita Ilungua, is suspended. Whether or not Crouch is paired with Torres or Voronin remains to be seen, but it seems more likely that Rafa will go with his “second choice” pairing. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of Torres, however.

I debated Gerrard’s inclusion here as well, mainly because of the importance of Sunday’s game against Chelsea. As Sissoko was left on the bench for almost all of the Villa match, he may well start here, but since I think that Mascherano will play, I’m hoping that Momo won’t. Liverpool has the quality to take the game to Toulouse with pretty much any line-up, but I still think Sissoko and Mascherano to be too defensive a pairing, especially for a game like this where Liverpool should dominate possession and play. Also, even with Chelsea coming up, it seems a bit early to talk about resting Gerrard for certain games. Yes, Liverpool should win here, and yes, Sunday’s game means more, as I think most fans’ focus is on the league, but this won’t be a walk.

I’m anticipating a similar defense to that which lined up at Villa, rotation be damned. No matter who starts in midfield, I imagine Riise will shift to left back in place of Arbeloa. Riise played in left midfield against Villa because Benitez wanted to keep it tight in an early season away league match. I doubt that will be the case against Toulouse; Kewell, Babel, or Benayoun should be able to do enough defensively to merit a start. Also, there’s a chance that Arbeloa could move over to right back; he featured in most of the CL games after he signed, and as much as it hurts me to say, Finnan was nowhere near his best on Saturday. But when in doubt, I’m going with Liverpool’s usual defense.

Toulouse lost their first game to newly promoted Valenciennes 3-1, but beat Lyon 1-0 on Saturday. In fairness to Lyon, they played with 10 men for an hour, but the win underscores the fact that Toulouse can be a threat. There’s a good review of the match at the Offside’s Lyon blog. Johan Elmander, the Toulouse player frequently singled out, scored the lone goal (naturally). The Swedish striker was highly regarded as an under-21 player, but did little else of note until scoring 11 last season, leading Toulouse to 3rd. But now he’s one of the most sought-after strikers in France. Elmander will be joined up front by 21-year-old Andre-Pierre Gignac, who’s good enough to have started a furor this summer when he backtracked on a transfer to Lille to join Toulouse.

I keep repeating it, but even with the importance of (and revenue from) the Champions League, I still consider an August game against Chelsea more important. Plus, although it’s worrisome when I’m confident prior to games, as it usually portends ominously, I can’t see Toulouse posing many problems. Yes, Elmander is a quick striker who could hurt Liverpool on the counter and he gave Agger problems the last time Sweden played Denmark. As this is Toulouse’s first time in the Champions League, they’ll be raring to go in front of the home fans. And yes, favored teams always have to protect against complacency. But I also don’t think Toulouse is as good as their 3rd place finish last season suggests.

Even with the aforementioned rotation, Liverpool still has a very strong side. It’s a credit to Benitez and the purchases made over the summer, and the last couple of seasons. Also, there’s no disputing that Benitez knows European competition. And honestly, from top to bottom, Liverpool is a better team, no mincing words.

An away win will take a lot of the pressure off the home match at Anfield on the 28th, which will come after an international break (England plays a friendly against Germany on the 22nd) and a match at Sunderland. Plus, it’ll build on the win against Villa, and continue the necessary and oft-mentioned strong start to the season going into (wait for it…) the match on Sunday.

Roll on Liverpool.