Round of 16:
Liverpool: 1-0 Inter (a); 2-0 Inter (h)
Arsenal: 0-2 Milan (a); 0-0 Milan (h)
Liverpool: 4-0 Marseille (a); 4-1 Porto (h); 8-0 Besiktas (h); 1-2 Besiktas (a); 0-1 Marseille (h); 1-1 Porto (a)
Arsenal: 2-1 Steaua (h); 1-3 Sevilla (a); 0-0 Slavia (a); 7-0 Slavia (h); 1-0 Steaua (h); 3-0 Sevilla (h)
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Everton (h); 0-3 United (a); 2-1 Reading (h)
Arsenal: 3-2 Bolton (a); 1-2 Chelsea (a); 1-1 Boro (h)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Kuyt 5; Crouch, Torres 4; Babel, Benayoun 3; Hyypia, Voronin 1
Arsenal: Fabregas 6; Eduardo 3; Bendtner, Hleb, van Persie, Walcott 2; Adebayor, Diaby, Rosicky 1
Referee: Pieter Vink (NED). This is Vink’s first season as a Champions League referee, and he’s never been in charge of a Liverpool match.
Guess at a squad
Carragher Skrtel Hyypia Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
I’m not quite sure how I’m going to preview three straight games against the same opposition.
It goes without saying that Liverpool’s record in the Champions League has been better than in the Premiership. But the only English opposition Liverpool’s faced in European competition has been Chelsea, with six games against the Blues since 04-05 (two wins, three draws and one loss, with Liverpool advancing every season). Is Liverpool really better against all opposition in Europe or just against Mourinho?
Liverpool and Arsenal met four times last season, with Arsenal winning both cup games and at the Emirates, while Liverpool recorded a comprehensive 4-1 victory at Anfield in the final match-up. But I doubt those results will have much bearing on this season: Henry’s gone, Fabregas’ has improved by leaps and bounds, and despite a tough stretch over the past month or so, Arsenal’s young squad has become an actual team. Oh, and Liverpool now has that 20-goal striker named Fernando Torres.
As always, it bears repeating; once again, Torres will be crucial. It’s hard to predict, with three games against the same team in a week, but I’d imagine Liverpool will continue in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Given the first leg is at Arsenal, Liverpool’s main objective will be to not concede, and hopefully strike on the counter.
The partnership between Gerrard and Torres, especially on the break, is a big reason why I’m actually confident going into this tie. I’m loving Gerrard in a free role behind Torres; Gerrard has the space and freedom to attack as he does best, the two of them link up fantastically (better than anyone could have hoped in Torres’ first season), and it’s obvious each adores being on the same team as the other, especially given their respective legacies of being a one-man team. Combined they’ve scored 47 of Liverpool’s 97 goals, little different than the vaunted pairings of Rooney and Ronaldo, and Drogba and Lampard.
It seems like both Aurelio and Arbeloa were rested with an eye on tomorrow’s match, but from the official site:
Either Alvaro Arbeloa or Fabio Aurelio also looks set to return after both were rested for the Merseyside derby.Riise played well against Everton, in one of his better performances this season, but it’s impossible to forget Aurelio against Arsenal last season, as he was utterly irrepressible in the 4-1 win. Also, that Benitez used the phrase “protect one of them” leads me to believe he’s referring to Aurelio given how much time Fabio’s missed due to injury. But Arbeloa can also play at left back, as we learned in Europe last season.
Benitez said: "We wanted to protect one of them, but I will not make that decision public at the moment."
Meanwhile, keeping Carra at right back and both Skrtel and Hyypia in the line-up isn’t out of the question, especially given how impressive the defense was against Everton. As said earlier, not conceding should be tomorrow’s main priority, and a backline of Carragher-Skrtel-Hyypia-Aurelio/Riise is probably Liverpool’s most assured. Taking an away goal to Anfield would be a huge boon, but taking a clean sheet would be even better.
In team news, Gerrard, Carragher, and Aurelio would miss the second leg if they pick up a yellow tomorrow, while the same goes for Adebayor, Clichy, Denilson, Eboue, and Hleb for Arsenal. Mascherano's league suspension, which is technically up (until the FA's next hearing in two days), doesn't count for European matches.
Having read the rest of this “preview,” it’s probably needless to say that I’m fairly conflicted over how Liverpool will approach this match. But tomorrow will say a lot about how Benitez will plan for the next two against Arsenal, and how well Liverpool will cope with this spate of fixtures.