29 February 2008

Liverpool at Bolton 03.02.08

8:30am EST, live in the US on Setanta

Last 4 head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (h) 12.02.07
3-0 Liverpool (h) 01.01.07
0-2 Bolton (a) 09.30.06
1-0 Liverpool (h) 04.09.06

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 3-2 Boro (h); 2-0 Inter (h); 1-2 Barnsley (h)
Bolton: 1-4 Blackburn (a); 0-0 Atletico (a); 1-0 Atletico (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 15; Gerrard 8; Babel, Benayoun, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso, Crouch 2; Hyypia, Sissoko 1
Bolton: Anelka 10; Nolan 5; Diouf 3; Davies, Helguson 2, Braaten, Campo, Giannakopoulous, Speed 1

Referee: Phil Dowd

Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Aurelio
Alonso Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun

If Benitez is serious about using the 4-2-3-1, I’d hope Liverpool stick with the formation for the rest of the league campaign. Rafa seemingly favored it at Valencia, and Liverpool’s been stocking players who can fit into the shape.

So even though there’s a game against West Ham a few days after this one, I’m hoping Benitez keeps nearly the same line-up as the one that went out against both Inter and Boro. Now that Liverpool’s out of two cup competitions, we should see far less “rotation.”

And again, I’m hoping the changes are mainly in defense, as the defense was the biggest problem last time out. With Carragher returning from suspension (if Carra’s involved it’ll be his 350th league appearance) and both Skrtel and Agger nearing fitness, this is a chance to get Hyypia some much needed rest. In addition, Arbeloa is back in the picture having played CB last time out, and with Finnan starting the last four, Arbeloa could return to right back.

I’m still a bit perplexed by Kuyt on the right flank, but Benitez certainly seems to approve. It stems back to the feeling that Liverpool’s often forced strikers out to the wing with less than the intended effect: Heskey, Diouf, Cisse, and now Dirk. But he’s a different option to both Pennant and Benayoun, ties together the midfield and attack (when his first touch isn’t off), and works his socks off both ways. His crossing isn’t the best, but we’ve seen a few good examples of it, mostly chipped crosses. And both Babel and Kuyt play in a similar formation for Holland.

I still feel that Kuyt’s getting a bit of an undeserved rap, especially in front of goal. He’s clearly gone through a dry spell, but looking at what he did last season and before coming to Liverpool, he’s a better player than the last couple of months have shown. I still can’t forget the brace against Reading and goals against West Ham, Newcastle, and Spurs, among others, last season. He will come good in front of goal if given the opportunity.

But both Pennant and Benayoun (as well as Babel) are in the mix for Sunday. Yossi’s scored 10 from midfield, including two hat-tricks, and more goals from midfield was one of Liverpool’s big needs last season. Pennant’s one of the best crossers on the team, although from the Inter match it looks like Benitez wants to use his pace and ability wide as a sub. But if Crouch plays, I still think Pennant should as well.

And it’s worth remembering that Liverpool started with both Crouch and Torres up top (with Benayoun and Kewell on the flanks), and won 4-0 in the reverse fixture. Bolton’s been far stingier under Megson, and Liverpool will have to persistently pressure to get a win at a ground where the team hasn’t come away with three points since 2002.

Like Liverpool, Bolton have a mid-week game after this, a UEFA Cup tie against Sporting Lisbon.

The four league matches before the next Inter tie are crucial to Liverpool’s campaign. It started off with the right result (although not the right performance) against Boro, and Liverpool has to continue that against Bolton, West Ham, and Newcastle. The Champions League doesn’t resume for two and a half weeks. Now is the time where Liverpool has to cement the push for fourth.

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