04 January 2008

Liverpool at Luton 01.06.08

11am EST, on in the US on pay-per-view

Liverpool is 5th in the Premiership with 38 points from 20 games
Luton is 21st in League One with 23 points from 23 games

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Wigan (h); 0-0 City (a); 2-1 Derby (a)
Luton: 1-0 Yeovil (h); 2-1 Port Vale (a); 1-1 Bristol Rovers (a)

Referee: Howard Webb

Full squad, according to the BBC:
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Riise, Hobbs, Sissoko, Mascherano, Alonso, Kewell, Babel, Lucas, Kuyt, Crouch, Voronin, Torres, Benayoun, Pennant, Itandje.

Guess at a line-up:
Finnan Carragher Hobbs Riise
Pennant Lucas Alonso Babel
Crouch Voronin

If the squad list on the BBC is right, I have to say, I’m a bit surprised.

With Gerrard, Arbeloa, and Aurelio ruled out through injury and much of the first team looking utterly exhausted following the festive period, I figured we’d see a line-up similar to that against Cardiff in the Carling Cup.

Benitez has frequently played stronger teams in the FA Cup compared to the Carling Cup following the reaction to the loss at Burnley in 04/05. But Liverpool’s also played a lot of games of late, and despite the setbacks recently, focus still has to be on league performance. But all season long, Benitez has put out stronger teams than expected in games where I figured certain players would be rested (Reading in the Carling Cup and Derby away in the league spring to mind).

I’d prefer to see Babel as a striker again, as in the Carling Cup against Cardiff, but without Leto in the squad and with Kewell playing a lot of games recently, I’d imagine Babel will start on the left. That is, unless Liverpool comes out with a surprise formation, either 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, as seen other times this season.

I’d also have thought that El Zhar might get another game after his performance against Cardiff, but as he’s not in the squad either, I have to believe that Benitez thinks Pennant can go for a second time this week, although Benayoun only played about 20 minutes on Wednesday. But if both Pennant and Crouch start, I think we’ll see Pennant’s crosses finding a target a bit more often than against Wigan.

Agger could also see time, as he’s in the squad and considering the injuries to Arbeloa and Aurelio, but I’ve still haven’t seen any confirmation from the official site or Benitez that he’s finally close enough to fitness. But we never got any confirmation about Pennant before his return.

Even if Liverpool rests players, it shouldn’t be the same as Burnley three years back. The line-up for that game was Dudek, Raven, Hyypia, Whitbread, Traore, Nuñez, Biscan, Welsh, Potter, Warnock, Pongolle. Any line-up Liverpool could send out on Sunday will be stronger than that.

I’m not trying to downplay the game or any threat Luton may pose. The FA Cup isn’t the Carling Cup, and any team, no matter the division, can beat another on their day.

But I still can’t move past my frustration with the league performance. The FA Cup would be a lovely bonus, but it’s still just that: a bonus. A win could do wonders to restore some of the morale and get the team back on track, but the bigger test will still be next Saturday at Boro, where Liverpool’s winless in the last five attempts (0-0, 0-0, 0-2, 0-0, 0-1).

Also, in a site business note, I apologize for not coming through with a second midseason review, but after the Wigan game, I’ve little inspiration to write something focusing on players’ performances, as I doubt I’d give them a fair shake. And while the midseason situation says a lot about how the rest of the season will go, nothing’s set in stone just yet.

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