7:45am EST, live in the US on Setanta Sports Xtra.
Being without DirecTV, if I can catch a stream, I will, but otherwise it’s replayed on Setanta at 4:30pm, and I’ll have a review up after that.
Last 4 head-to-head (league):
1-2 Portsmouth (a) 04.28.07
0-0 (h) 11.29.06
3-1 Liverpool (a) 05.07.06
3-0 Liverpool (h) 11.19.05
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 6-0 Derby (h); 4-0 Toulouse (h); 2-0 Sunderland (a)
Portsmouth: 1-3 Arsenal (a); 3-0 Leeds (h); 0-1 Chelsea (a)
Liverpool: Torres 3; Alonso, Voronin 2; Babel, Gerrard, Sissoko 1
Portsmouth: Benjani, Kanu, Utaka 2; Taylor 1
Referee: Mike Riley
Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Agger Riise
Pennant Sissoko Alonso Benayoun
As much as it annoys me, the international games will play a role in the team selection. Rafa has used a lot of the same players in the league, despite all the talk of rotation, and has kept the shape of the team the same in all outings, but some changes will have to be made with so many players seeing time for their countries over the past week.
Alonso’s red card for Spain on Saturday was a blessing for Liverpool. He’ll be fresh for Saturday’s game having only played 45 minutes for the reserves on Tuesday (as a center back no less). Mascherano was unlikely to start anyway, thanks to jet lag returning from Australia after a meaningless friendly.
Whether or not it’s Gerrard or Sissoko paired with Alonso remains to be seen. It all depends on if Rafa’s willing to risk Gerrard for Portsmouth away. He looked good for England, and claims the toe hasn’t been an issue, but he’s not completely match-fit, and has played two tiring games in the past week. Benitez is hopeful that Gerrard will see some action, but with it so early in the season and his fitness still somewhat a doubt, I don’t know if it’s worth it. I always want Gerrard on the field, but it’s probably for the best if Stevie’s held back for at least one more match. The way Sissoko’s played recently doesn’t hurt matters either, especially in a tough away game like this will probably be.
With Babel playing more than expected for Holland, I reckon that Benayoun will make his first start in the league. I don’t know whether Pennant or Benayoun will line up on the right or the left, but I imagine if both start, they’ll end up switching flanks at some point anyway. Maybe a chance of a Leto sighting, as against Toulouse, but I doubt it.
No matter the internationals however, I’m still of the opinion that Torres needs to start every game possible. We’ve seen his potential to be one of the best strikers in the Premiership and a game-changer at that. And if that happens, I don’t think it’s very likely Crouch will start with him. It’s slightly worrying, as Crouch is probably the freshest of all the strikers, but we haven’t seen him paired with Torres at all this season, and I don’t know how effective the combination could be. Kuyt or Voronin will probably pair Torres, and with Torres/Kuyt appearing to be the preferred partnership, I imagine that’s who will start.
Finnan’s probably out injured, which means that Arbeloa should play on the right with Riise on the left (although Aurelio is back in training as well). However, from all I’ve read this week, it looks like Carragher’s going to make his return from a broken rib suffered only 3 weeks ago. The man’s a legend.
Portsmouth has turned into something of a bogey team for Liverpool. They took 4 points off the Reds last season, although a mountain of changes were made for the game in April. And Pompey won on penalties in the Asia Trophy at the end of July, although, yes, I’m aware that it was a preseason game. But it was quite closely contested and Liverpool had trouble breaking them down, which Benitez will definitely mindful of.
Fratton Park is never an easy place to play either, as Manchester United will attest to. I also look forward to hearing that bell clanging so early in the morning.
So far, Portsmouth’s gotten 5 points from 5. One game they’ll play out an ugly draw with Derby, the next, they’re holding Manchester United. And they should have done better against a 10-man Arsenal in their last game, letting in some poor goals. But make no mistake; Portsmouth is a better team than they were last year.
The addition of David Nugent and John Utaka has bolstered the frontline, while Muntari and Papa Bouba Diop (who looks likely to make his debut) add steel in midfield. Matty Taylor’s still an outstanding player who can create goals from nothing. David James always seems to have a blinder against his former team. And I can’t help but enjoy the antics of Harry Redknapp, who’s an excellent manager in his own right.
Still, Liverpool’s looked very good over the past few games. They’ve kept a clean sheet in the last 3, and are top of the league for the first time under Benitez (although that means next to nothing yet). I still can’t decide if I think that Villa or Pompey away is a tougher match, but nonetheless, these are the games that were singled out as games Liverpool needed to do better in. A tough away match, against a team likely to finish in the top half, and it’s an early kickoff following an international break to boot.
Should Liverpool keep up the pace tomorrow, it will be another step in the road, and another sign that this is a different team than in seasons past.
Let’s see it happen.