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Last 4 head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 04.20.02
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.01.01
1-1 (h) 03.18.01
4-0 Liverpool (a) 10.15.00
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 4-0 Toulouse (h); 2-0 Sunderland (a); 1-1 Chelsea (h)
Derby: 2-2 (6-7 after pens) Blackpool (h); 1-2 Birmingham (h); 0-4 Tottenham (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Sissoko, Torres, Voronin 1
Derby: Oakley 2; Todd 1
Referee: Alan Wiley
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Agger Hyypia Arbeloa
Pennant Alonso Sissoko Babel
Gerrard is still less than fit, and I find it very hard to believe he’ll figure here. There’s little need to risk him, and if he plays here, Liverpool has even less of an argument for keeping him out of England’s Euro qualifiers. Since I have to believe Gerrard will be called into action for at least one England game, I’d hope he’s given this weekend to further heal his fractured toe.
Even without Gerrard, there’s still a healthy debate over who will start in the center of midfield. As much as I adore Mascherano, it seems more likely that Alonso will start. And with Liverpool needing to take the game to Derby, who will have 10 men behind the ball, I don’t know if an Alonso/Mascherano pairing, both of whom like to sit deep, is a viable option. I think it’ll probably be one or the other starting, and while I think Mascherano’s played better than Alonso so far this season, Alonso’s range and vision will probably be more important than Mascherano’s tackling and positioning against Derby.
Plus, Sissoko has played very well in the last two games, and even though the fact he’s started the last two might mean he’s in line for a rest, I’d hope he’s the one paired with Alonso. But, there’s also a small possibility of seeing Lucas, who did well after coming on as a sub against Toulouse, and is more of an attacking option than either Alonso or Mascherano. Seems much more likely he’ll be on the bench though.
As Derby will play very, very tight, I’d hope that Liverpool goes with two out-and-out attackers on the flanks. Specifically, I think Babel, with his pace and trickery, will have a big part to play tomorrow, and either Pennant or Benayoun will join him on the opposite side. I’m guessing it’ll be Pennant, as he’s been Rafa’s first choice on the right in every league game so far and good crossing of the ball will be vital, but I can’t ignore the job that Yossi did against Toulouse on Tuesday, and I do fear that his confidence would be damaged being dropped after such a good performance, but there’s little room for sentimentality. No matter which of the two starts, I’m expecting big things.
Torres will probably lead the line, and I imagine that no matter the striker rotation, he’ll be one of the first names on the team sheet every time out. His involvement literally frightens defenses (and the backline isn’t Derby’s strong suit), and Liverpool is far more threatening with him in the line-up. Kuyt’s two goals and his tremendous work rate shown against Toulouse lead me to believe he’ll be one paired with Torres, but after Voronin’s performances, his inclusion wouldn’t surprise me one bit either.
With Finnan rested against Toulouse, he’ll probably return as right back, with either Arbeloa or Riise as left back. I’m guessing Arbeloa will start, probably more because he’s in my fantasy team than anything, but Riise could be useful off the bench, coming in at either left back or left midfield as a sub if needed, not to mention the fact he played some central defense against Toulouse. Hyypia and Agger, the only two fit center backs, seemingly have to be the central pairing, as Carragher will continue to be out with a broken rib.
Derby will struggle to pick up points from nearly every game in the Premiership this season, but they’ll still be a difficult team to break down, and we know Liverpool’s had problems with this in previous seasons. They will probably play with Steve Howard as a lone striker, and 5 midfielders to further congest play in the middle of the park. But outside of a good 2-2 draw against Portsmouth on the first day, Derby’s struggled; a 4-0 thrashing by Spurs, followed by a home loss to fellow promoted side Birmingham, and a loss in the 2nd round of the Carling Cup to Blackpool on penalties with the majority of the first team squad playing.
I’m always fearful when I’m confident about Liverpool chances, but they should be able to break down Derby at Anfield, even though games like this have caused Liverpool angst in the past. But that’s why players like Torres and Babel were bought, and that’s why I expect them to play Saturday. Liverpool needs to be ruthless if this season’s expectations are to be met, and hopefully, they will be tomorrow.