27 November 2007

Liverpool v Porto 11.28.07

2:45pm on Setanta

Porto is currently 1st in the Superliga

Group Stage:
Liverpool: 8-0 Besiktas (h); 1-2 Besiktas (a); 0-1 Marseille (h); 1-1 Porto (a)
Porto: 2-1 Marseille (h); 1-1 Marseille (a); 1-0 Besiktas (a); 1-1 Liverpool (h)

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Newcastle (a); 2-0 Fulham (h); 8-0 Besiktas (h)
Besiktas: 2-0 Vitoria Setubal; 2-2 Estrela Amadora (a); 2-1 Marseille (h)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Benayoun, Crouch, Kuyt 3; Babel, Gerrard 2; Hyypia, Voronin 1
Besiktas: Gonzalez 2; Lopez, Quaresma, Sektioui 1

Referee: Roberto Rosetti (ITA)

Guess at a squad
Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Gerrard Lucas Mascherano Kewell
Kuyt Torres

Outside of the likely return of Mascherano to the starting line-up, I don’t know how different the team will look from that on Saturday.

Another change could be the inclusion of Crouch, as it’s Europe and he might have only played 10 minutes on Saturday with an eye on this game. Guessing Crouchy to start has gone poorly for me recently, and if Liverpool plays in a similar formation to that at Newcastle, I don’t know where Peter will fit in, but it is still European competition, and continental teams don’t come up against a striker like Crouch often. However, Kuyt scored in the away fixture, and has three goals in the CL, and the team played cohesively against Newcastle 3 days ago.

Then again, maybe Rafa will throw us for a complete loop, remembering how Torres marked out of the game in Portugal and is still without a goal in Europe. Also, Voronin played very well against both Besiktas and Fulham before the break. It’s nice having four strikers capable of starting, but it certainly doesn’t help trying to forecast the team.

And I still think Liverpool’s going to look a lot like they did at St James’ Park. I’ve written up the formation as a 4-4-2 for simplicity, but there were similarities to 4-3-3 (4-3-2-1, whatever) with Kuyt and Kewell playing off of Torres, and 3 “central” midfielders.

Gerrard was massively influential in this formation, able to pop up all over the pitch and with the freedom to orchestrate the game as he saw fit. Bringing Mascherano in for Sissoko would allow Liverpool to have someone in there to break up Porto's attacks through the middle, but Mascherano is still more assured and composed on the ball than Sissoko, and Liverpool’s ability to retain possession is going to be extremely important, especially given how Porto controlled the game in Portugal.

Babel’s played well of late, but I still believe he’s more suited to coming off the bench at his age and with his skill set. I admittedly am worried about Kewell starting twice in a week, but he only played 58 minutes against Newcastle. Benayoun may be back on the right, as Benitez only said that Agger, Alonso, and Pennant are assuredly out (relatedly, that Finnan picked up a knock last time out and was tormented by Quaresma in the away leg is why I'm guessing Arbeloa on the right), but after missing the last three weeks, I don’t know if Yossi will go straight back into the line-up.

My biggest fear is Porto’s ability to control tempo and possession, although that should be partly allayed with the game at Anfield. Plus, the form Liverpool’s been in over the past few matches is markedly different from when these two teams last met. But in the last meeting, Liverpool got the fewest shots on goal and had the least amount of possession so far this season. Liverpool started exceptionally poorly, and it set the tone for the rest of the game. The group standings make it imperative for Liverpool to attack, attack, attack, but given how the last match between the two went, it’d probably be a good idea anyway.

But I don’t need to say much more about how Liverpool must win, not only to keep progression in the Champions League alive (and all the lovely money that comes with it), but to put this nonsense surrounding Benitez behind us as well.

Completely unrelated, but I want to get a prediction for Blackburn v Villa (3pm, not on TV in the US) on record in my attempt to forecast every non-Liverpool Premiership game (65-59, with 16 exact so far).

Blackburn 2-1

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