14 March 2008

Liverpool v Reading 03.15.08

11am EST, live in the US on FSC

Last 4 head-to-head:
1-3 Reading (a) 12.08.07
4-2 Liverpool (a; Carling Cup) 09.25.07
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.07.07
2-0 Liverpool (h) 11.04.06

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Inter (a); 3-0 Newcastle (h); 4-0 West Ham (h)
Reading: 2-0 City (h); 1-0 Boro (a); 1-2 Villa (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 19; Gerrard 10; Babel 4; Benayoun, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso, Crouch 2; Aurelio, Hyypia, Pennant, Sissoko 1
Reading: Kitson 9; Doyle, Harper, Hunt 5; Long 3; Ingimarsson, Shorey 2; Bikey, Cisse 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

The same referee as in the first leg of the fixture. You know, the one that gave Reading their debatable penalty and ignored at least two Liverpool claims. Outstanding.

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

There’s a week before the next match after this one, against United at Old Trafford, so I doubt there will be much rotation. Hopefully, we’ll see nearly the same side that’s become Benitez’s preferred XI.

The front six has been fairly set in stone. We might see a few changes – Benayoun, Pennant, and Lucas all appear to be possibilities – but it’s looking more and more likely these are the strikers and midfielders Benitez favors.

Again, like last week against Newcastle, I wonder if the most likely change will be Pennant or Benayoun for Kuyt. I still don’t think Kuyt’s a bad option on the right (in this system), but I wouldn’t suggest he’s a long-term solution there either.

Both Pennant and Benayoun have attributes that would seem fit into the formation, and it’d be helpful for them to get time out there with the run of games coming up. But it’s worth remembering that Benitez usually sticks with one winger who can stay out wide and one who prefers to cut in (i.e., Kuyt and Babel, and Pennant and Benayoun), which has been a characteristic that’s remained no matter the formation used.

News today is that Agger will miss the remainder of the season, undergoing further surgery on the Jones fracture in his fifth metatarsal. Looking into what a Jones fracture actually is, Wikipedia (naturally, the best source for reliable medical information) confirms that it’s one of the tougher fractures to heal, and one that frequently sees complications. With the addition of Skrtel, it’s for the best to shut him down for the season, hopefully to return fully fit in the summer.

Otherwise, only Voronin and Finnan, both close to returning, should be the only other absentees. Alonso’s back with the team after the birth of his son.

"I was preparing a new contract for his son," laughed Rafa.

"It is just in case, because his father was a good player, he is a good player and maybe his son will be a good player, so it's important to sign the players early."

Not a bad idea.

Reading is still without Murty and Little due to long-term injuries, while both Gunnarsson and Fae will also be absent. Prior to the last two games, they were on an 11-match winless streak that saw them drop amongst the relegation places. But having beaten Boro at the Riverside and Man City at home, they’re back up to 14th, and playing far better than they were in January and February.

I assume the squad and all the fans remember the reverse fixture at the Madejski. We saw the first signs of this 4-2-3-1, but the front six were Torres, Voronin, Crouch, Gerrard, Sissoko, and Mascherano. 1-3 may have been a harsh scoreline, especially with some of the decisions, but by the full 90, Reading were deserved winners. While it was Liverpool’s first league loss of the season, it started that precipitous period that I’ve little desire to rehash.

Following this match comes the run of games mentioned in the last post: United, Everton, Arsenal, Arsenal, and Arsenal. It will be a crucial time, not only for the remainder of the league campaign, but the entire season. Coming away with all three points won’t only serve as revenge for the loss in December, but it’ll continue the momentum built up over the past few weeks.

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