24 September 2007

Liverpool at Reading 09.25.07

2:45pm EST. Shown at 6pm on Setanta Sports.

Last 3 head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.07.07
2-0 Liverpool (h) 11.04.06
4-3 Liverpool (a; Carling Cup) 10.25.06

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Brum (h); 1-1 Porto (a); 0-0 Portsmouth (a)
Reading: 2-1 Wigan (h); 1-2 Sunderland (a); 0-3 West Ham (h)

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a squad:
Darby Arbeloa Hobbs Aurelio
El Zhar Sissoko Lucas Leto
Crouch Lindfield

I’ll be honest, I’m not really bothered one way or the other whether Liverpool has a decent Carling Cup run. When the players take the field, I’ll undoubtedly be rooting for a win, but the Carling Cup is a distant 4th in priorities for Liverpool this season. And I’m far more concerned about Liverpool’s performance in the league this weekend.

Tomorrow is first and foremost about getting young players and reserves playing time. There’s no doubt that Liverpool will have wholesale changes; I’ll be surprised if anyone who started on Saturday plays tomorrow.

In my eyes, the biggest benefit to tomorrow’s match is the opportunities to evaluate the depth at center-back. With Agger injured, Hyypia and Carra are the only two first-teamers with experience.

This game will allow Hobbs to get time in the first team, and to see how well Arbeloa can play in the middle, which he might have to do in more important games in the future. As Carra points out, Hobbs is captain of the reserves and has done well with the opportunities he’s had. He may well need to see first-team action this season, so games like tomorrow’s will be crucial for his development.

I know Arbeloa’s played more than anyone else so far, but I think he’ll be rested after this game. With Aurelio and Riise both returning to fitness, left back is less of a problem area. I think Arbeloa will be the one to guide Hobbs through tomorrow, especially given how important Hyypia and Carragher are and how they’ll need to be fresh for the Premiership and Champions League.

It seems certain that Itandje will get his first start for Liverpool, knowing how the backup keeper always plays the cups, but I wonder if as both Hobbs and Arbeloa might be called upon in the future, this is a good game for Reina to play as well. It’s not as if he needs to be rested for fitness reasons, and it would be useful for both central defenders to get used Pepe’s calls and how he plays if Liverpool is really going to need them.

I hope to see both Leto and Lucas start as well. Matches like this will be their best introduction to English football and their best chance to see significant playing time. The glimpses we’ve seen of both have been promising, but other than the game against Toulouse, they’ve only been glimpses. I’m interested to see how they cope with starting and being heavily involved in the match.

While I had hoped Insua would get a good amount of time in the cups, I imagine that Aurelio will start in an effort to get him closer to full fitness. He’s going to be needed even more now that Agger is injured, but we saw how effective Fabio can be last season, especially from set pieces and delivering crosses.

Other young players will get time as well. Stephen Darby will probably play at right back, as he got time there in the preseason, but Jay Spearing's another possibility. El Zhar’s gotten first-team action before, but Benitez may well use tomorrow to give Benayoun a game. Lindfield is my best guess for partnering Crouch, as Crouchy will probably be tossed a bone and start tomorrow, but there’s also the possibility of Brouwer or Pacheco, among others.

This is the second year in a row Liverpool’s faced Reading in the Carling Cup. Last year, Liverpool was up 3-0 and 4-1 before Reading made it 4-3. Despite their flaws this season, and despite the fact they’ll rest key players tomorrow (as they did in the CC last year), Reading always has the potential to make a game of it.

But again, I’m finding it very hard to care about Liverpool’s fortunes in the Carling Cup. I can’t help but think of Benitez’s second season, where Liverpool had a bad result against Fulham before losing to Crystal Palace in the 3rd round of the Carling Cup, which brought about a torrent of criticism. If you ignore the loss to Sao Paulo in the WCC, Liverpool went unbeaten for 17 games following the Palace match.

I’d be perfectly happy if history repeated itself.

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