11am EST, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 04.14.07
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.25.06
1-0 Liverpool (h) 02.26.06
1-0 Liverpool (a) 11.26.05
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Derby (a); 4-1 Pompey (h); 0-2 Chelsea (a)
City: 2-2 Blackburn (h); 1-1 Villa (a); 0-2 Spurs (h)
Liverpool: Torres 9; Gerrard 7; Babel, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso, Benayoun 2; Hyypia, Sissoko 1
Derby: Bianchi, Elano, Petrov 4; Geovanni 3; Ireland, Johnson, Mpenza, Vassell 2; Etuhu 1
Referee: Uriah Rennie. Sigh.
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carragher Hyypia Arbeloa
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Kewell
Although it was a stronger line-up than anticipated at Derby, I expect to see the few regular first-teamers who didn’t start: Kewell, Mascherano, Benayoun, Arbeloa (although he was out with flu), and Kuyt. But the spine of Reina, Carragher, Gerrard, and Torres seems to be pretty much ever-present.
Hyypia’s doubtful with an ankle injury, which is why he was subbed early in the second half against Derby, while there’s talk of Agger being “rushed back” (the BBC’s phrase) as he’s back in training. But if Hyypia can’t go, I expect to see Hobbs again; Agger’s long absence has definitely hindered Liverpool, but it’s been a slow recovery, and it’s been proven time and time again you can’t rush metatarsals.
Even though City’s winless in their last three, they’re still unbeaten at the Eastlands. Yesterday’s draw against Blackburn was the first time they’ve dropped points at home all season.
The key men for City will obviously be Petrov and Elano. Both have had excellent seasons, and the two summer acquisitions are the main reason for City’s league standing.
Petrov especially worries, which you could see in the way he tormented Blackburn down the left last time out. For that reason, I’m tempted to think Gerrard might play on the right, as we know he forms a good defensive pairing with Finnan. But I still don’t know if Alonso is healthy enough to start a second game this week, while Gerrard on the right frequently has license to roam and could leave gaps. Benitez’s conservative streak, especially in tough away games, makes the midfield even tougher than usual to predict.
I imagine it will be Mascherano’s brief to keep Elano under wraps, much like he did against Kaka in last year’s CL final. Elano is one of those players that operates between the lines behind a lone striker and sets up City’s attacking play, but Mascherano has proven time and time again he’s one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
The aforementioned conservative streak may mean that Benitez plays something like a 4-2-3-1 (for example, Alonso-Mascherano; Benayoun-Gerrard-Kewell; Torres), which we’ve seen at times this season. City thrives on non-stop attack, especially at home, and with a five-man midfield and Torres up top, Liverpool could be dangerous on the counter. But with fitness concerns in defense and some crazy goals given up this season, I don’t know if soaking up City pressure and looking to break is the best way to plan for this match. Especially since Liverpool could end up playing narrow in that formation, while City’s strengths down the flanks have been evident.
I still feel stupid for questioning whether City would jell before the season, as that prediction flew out the window after the first week. A top 5 finish still seems somewhat optimistic, but the fact we’re debating it shows the strides Sven’s made (I’m still stunned I’m writing this).
It’s been written before, and it’s still true: this is the toughest game Liverpool will play over the festive period. So far it’s 6 points out of 6, whatever you feel about Wednesday’s performance. If Liverpool can continue picking up points, and show strength by beating a team 1 point below them in the table on their pitch, anything can happen in the second half of the season.