27 August 2007

Liverpool v Toulouse 08.28.07

3:05pm EST on GolTV

Liverpool leads 1-0 on aggregate.

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Sunderland (a); 1-1 Chelsea (h); 1-0 Toulouse (a)
Toulouse: 1-1 Nice (a); 1-3 Racing Strasbourg (h); 0-1 Liverpool (h)

Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER)

Guess at a squad
Finnan Hyypia Agger Arbeloa
Benayoun Alonso Mascherano Riise
Crouch Kuyt

Gerrard and Carragher are assuredly ruled out thanks to a fractured toe and broken rib/collapsed lung respectively.

Hyypia has been declared available for Tuesday’s game, but with a broken nose and Carragher likely to miss more than just this week’s games, he may be held back. But everything I’ve seen since Saturday seems to reaffirm that he’ll start. I love the fact he’s so hard he got his nose set at halftime, and says he’s got no need to miss any further time. If Hyypia doesn’t play, the backline will probably be Finnan-Arbeloa-Agger-Riise.

With Mascherano not playing over the weekend, it seems a certainty he’ll start here. As said in the past, I’d hope he’s not paired with Sissoko, but with Momo’s performance over the weekend and the fact that Liverpool just needs to keep Toulouse from scoring, the combination is a better possibility than usual.

The same goes for Crouch, and possibly Benayoun, neither of whom even made the bench on Saturday. Even considering Benayoun’s agent’s statements, and how little action he’s seen so far. And with Pennant having started every league game, but not appearing in the last leg of the qualifiers, hopefully Yossi will get to play in his favored position on the right. And he’d do well to take advantage of his opportunities if what his agent says is true.

With Torres and Voronin both playing 90 minutes on Saturday, Crouch (who looks to be relegated to playing mainly in Europe, like Benayoun), and Kuyt should start. That pairing, which was pretty much 1st choice last year, should be enough for this match, but I’d hope Torres is on the bench if needed. The same goes for Babel, who can change a game with his speed when legs begin to tire.

If Riise starts in defense, I’d imagine Babel would start in midfield, and with Benayoun, could end up switching flanks and causing Toulouse problems. But he’s another who’s seen a lot of action so far this season (started or subbed on in all 4 games), and is probably better suited to come off the bench, as Liverpool will be trying to keep it tight for at least the first part of the match.

It’s easy to look past Toulouse given how well Liverpool’s played, the 1-0 win in France and Toulouse’s domestic struggles. But, and I know it's cliché, there are no easy games in the Champions League. And in the last few years, Liverpool’s made hard work of it at home in the qualifying stages. Liverpool needed a late Mark Gonzalez goal to win the home leg against Haifa last year. In 05/06 Liverpool lost to Sofia 0-1 at home after winning the away leg. The same happened in 04/05 to Grazer AK.

Toulouse will again look to stifle play and challenge Liverpool on the counter attack. They've still got injury problems in defense, but that didn't stop them from making Liverpool work hard for their lone goal in the last match. Striker Andre-Pierre Gignac is one of the few Toulouse players doing well domestically, scoring Toulouse’s two goals in the last two games, and he’s best doing it on the counter. Toulouse scores once, and the tie’s back to square one.

But Benitez will have his players, no matter who plays, well drilled for this match. And one goal from Liverpool will probably put the game out of reach. Now let's see it happen, and Champions League qualification (and all the delicious, delicious money that comes with it) clinched.

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