21 September 2007

Liverpool v Birmingham 09.22.07

10am EST, live in the US on Setanta Sports.

Last 4 head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a; Carling Cup) 11.08.06
7-0 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 03.21.06
1-1 (h) 02.01.06
2-2 (a) 09.24.05

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Porto (a); 0-0 Portsmouth (a); 6-0 Derby (h)
Brum: 1-0 Bolton (h); 0-2 Boro (a); 2-1 Hereford (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 3; Alonso, Voronin 2; Babel, Gerrard, Sissoko 1
Brum: Jerome, Kapo 2; Forssell, O’Connor 1

Referee: Lee Mason

Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Babel
Torres Kuyt

The news that both Alonso and Agger are out for the next six weeks with broken metatarsals is not good. Now we’ll get to see how deep the squad really is.

Thankfully, both Riise and Aurelio are in the process of returning from injury, which will allow Arbeloa to shift over to center-back when needed. We may even see Insua get time at left back as well (here’s hoping!), but I imagine he’ll be mainly limited to games like Tuesday’s Carling Cup match at Reading.

I can’t ever remember seeing Arbeloa play at center-back for Liverpool. He’s always been advertised as able to fill that role, but I am a bit nervous having yet to see him play there consistently. And I think that Hyypia will probably start again on Saturday; Arbeloa’s due for a rest, as he’s started every game so far this season.

Alonso’s injury will affect Liverpool differently. There’s adequate cover in central midfield, with Gerrard, Mascherano and Sissoko available, and Lucas if needed. But we saw against Porto what can happen without Xabi in the side. There’s a correlation between Liverpool’s abhorrent passing and Alonso’s absence.

First and foremost, Mascherano, who will come closest to filling Alonso’s role, will have to play far better than he did mid-week. His passing was absolutely awful against Porto, which came as such a surprise given how composed he’s looked in the past.

I’m guessing Benayoun in over Pennant solely because of my displeasure with Jermaine following Tuesday’s match. Were there a European match next week, he’d obviously play due to the Champions League suspension, but I think that Benitez may use this game to make a point to Pennant. However, Pennant may well have a point of his own to prove going up against his old club.

And all of the above may be irrelevant should Benayoun not be available for selection because of Yom Kippur, but he is in the team.

Babel may not have had the best game against Porto, but as said, no one did, and if he’s going to progress, he needs time in games like this. That and the only other options on the left flank seem to be Riise or Aurelio (Leto, like Insua, will probably see time in the Carling Cup). I hope Riise returns to the squad in defense, although he’s got a good scoring record against Birmingham, and chances are we’ll see Aurelio off the bench, as it’s probably too soon to consider him for a start.

I also want to see Torres and Kuyt resume their partnership up top. Kuyt was one of the few positives from Tuesday’s match, while my belief that Torres should be starting every match possible has been reiterated enough. It could be Voronin that starts with Torres, as he didn’t against Porto, but Kuyt can’t be dropped after his last performance, can he?

Birmingham is most likely going to be one of those teams that parks the bus in front of goal at Anfield. Liverpool will need to show that added creativity that’s been much discussed since the summer. And it’s for that reason I think that both Torres and Kuyt will start and that Liverpool will have two tricky players on that flanks. Birmingham can pose a threat on the counter, mainly though Cameron Jerome and Olivier Kapo, but Liverpool should have the lion’s share of both possession and chances.

This game’s been eyed hungrily since the draws against Pompey and Porto, which isn’t a surprise given Birmingham’s pedigree. But it’s worth noting that Brum’s been a bogey team in the league for Liverpool. The season they were relegated Birmingham earned draws in both matches (not counting the FA Cup match), including a gut-wrenching 1-1 draw at Anfield when they were down to 10 men and got an own goal in the dying minutes. I doubt we’ll see another 6-0 (or 7-0) goal-fest, but here’s hoping for a mauling anyway.

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