01 January 2008

Liverpool v Wigan 01.02.08

3pm EST, live in the US on Setanta

Last 4 head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 09.29.07
2-0 Liverpool (h) 04.21.07
4-0 Liverpool (a) 12.02.06
1-0 Liverpool (a) 02.11.06

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 City (a); 2-1 Derby (a); 4-1 Pompey (h)
Wigan: 1-2 Villa (h); 1-0 Newcastle (h); 1-1 Fulham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 9; Gerrard 7; Babel, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso, Benayoun 2; Hyypia, Sissoko 1
Wigan: Bent 7, Landzaat, Scharner, Sibierski 3; Bramble, Heskey, Koumas, Taylor 1

Referee: Steve Bennett

Guess at a squad:
Finnan Arbeloa Carragher Aurelio
Gerrard Alonso Mascherano Babel
Crouch Kuyt

Gerrard and Torres looked utterly fatigued on Sunday.

I realize resting Torres is heresy, and it was a 0-0 draw against a Steve Bruce-managed side that led to the loudest clamor for his permanent inclusion, but he’s started every game other than the Carling Cup match at Chelsea since returning from injury against Fulham in early November.

His class is sometimes necessary to break down cagey teams, which Liverpool has struggled to do in the past, but his fitness is paramount, and honestly, Liverpool should have enough class to get goals regardless; I shouldn’t have to remind that Torres didn’t feature in Liverpool’s largest rout this season. And worst-case scenario, Torres should be available to come off the bench if needed.

Gerrard’s in a similar situation, but he’s the captain and plays nearly every league game if available. As he’s seemingly fatigued, a freer role on the right may not be the best position for him, but I don’t know how much Wigan will offer going forward at Anfield. Plus, with both Alonso and Mascherano in the team, Gerrard would ideally be able to focus on the attack, and could be subbed off early if Liverpool’s in front. It may just be a crisis of faith, but I don’t know if Liverpool can leave out both Torres and Gerrard, despite Wigan’s position in the league.

With the amount of fixtures over the past few weeks, it seems like one of those games where we might be in for a surprise with the line-up. But Liverpool can ill-afford to drop any points in the league, especially at Anfield, where the home form has been less than impressive. And players will assuredly be rested in the FA Cup match against Luton on Sunday, with a week until the following match at Boro.

In team news, I expect Crouch to start upon his return from suspension, while it looks as if both Hyypia and Agger are still out, meaning Arbeloa will probably be drafted into central defense for the second straight match. But with Wigan likely to defend for the majority, it might be a match for Hobbs to get more experience.

Steve Bruce-led sides almost always come to Anfield and play for a 0-0 draw. But they’re also successful at it; the draw with Birmingham in September was archetypal of this. The football’s not pleasing on the eye, but it’s a tactic teams have to resort to with the gulf in spending between some of the sides, and it’s not as if Liverpool isn’t familiar with the approach by now.

I don’t want to downplay any threat Wigan will offer. Both Heskey and Koumas should return to the side, and Liverpool’s been susceptible to the counter-attack at times this season. And despite a dearth of goals for the most part, Wigan did put 5 past Blackburn a little over two weeks ago.

But we’ve seen consistencies in past matches against both Wigan and against teams managed by Bruce. The biggest question tomorrow should be if Liverpool has the cutting edge to break down what will most likely be a very resilient Wigan side.

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