18 April 2008

Liverpool at Fulham 04.19.08

10am EST, live in the US on Setanta

Last 4 head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 11.10.07
0-1 Fulham (a) 05.05.07
4-0 Liverpool (h) 12.09.06
5-1 Liverpool (h) 03.15.06

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 3-1 Blackburn (h); 4-2 Arse (h); 1-1 Arse (a)
Fulham: 2-0 Reading (a); 1-3 Sunderland (h); 2-2 Derby (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 22; Gerrard 11; Babel, Voronin 4; Benayoun, Crouch, Kuyt 3; Alonso 2; Aurelio, Hyypia, Mascherano, Pennant, Sissoko 1
Fulham: Dempsey 6; Davies 4; Healy 4; Kamara, McBride, Murphy 3; Bullard 2; Bocanegra, Bouazza, Nevland, Smertin 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

A little late in the season now, but I think I should link ynwa.tv’s “Meet the Referee” in these previews. Really should have started sooner.

Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carragher Skrtel Insua
Mascherano Lucas
Pennant Benayoun Riise

I’m expecting a similar line-up to that which earned a point at the Emirates two weeks ago. The only differences, which really are guesses, are Mascherano and Insua to start in place of Plessis and Arbeloa.

Plessis played 15 minutes in the reserve game yesterday, while Mascherano is fresher than most of the first thanks to his league suspension. Insua was left out of the reserves game in its entirety (as was Nemeth, as Georger pointed out in the comments yesterday), and he started against Fulham last May in similar circumstances. Plus, with Aurelio proving to be first choice, Rafa will probably use the opportunity to rest him before Chelsea.

At most, I’d expect to see Gerrard and Torres on the bench, with Torres most likely wrapped in cotton wool, given those two’s importance for the match on Tuesday and the rest of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either left out entirely, especially if Nemeth is on the bench (as he’d play a similar role as Torres), and considering what Benitez said about Gerrard in his pre-match conference: “He has a neck problem. Yesterday in training he scored three or goals with his head so at the end he had a problem.” Without seeing the video it’s impossible to say whether or not Benitez’s tongue was firmly planted in cheek; I find it hard to believe that sort of injury would keep Gerrard out of a more important match. It’s also worth noting Torres came off the bench to win the match at Anfield between these two sides.

In the same interview Benitez also mentioned Arbeloa was a concern, so Finnan will probably return at right back. Hyypia is also likely to be rested with an eye on Tuesday (even considering Reina’s effusive praise of Sami on the official site today), where I expect a backline of Carra-Skrtel-Hyypia-Aurelio.

After a win at Reading last week, Fulham are four points from safety, with Birmingham in 17th and Reading one point higher in 16th. That away victory at the Madejski was their first on the road in 33 attempts and they were unlucky not to win by more. With McBride finally healthy and some of Hodgson’s signings settling in, Fulham has a chance to make a miraculous escape for the second straight season.

It’s an odd coincidence, but this match will be played in very similar circumstances to last year. Fulham desperately need points to get out of the relegation zone while Liverpool’s focus is on the Champions League, with the away side very likely to rest key players. But unlike last year, Liverpool don’t have fourth spot secured yet. Chelsea’s victory at Goodison yesterday was helpful -- Everton are five points back with four to play -- but when these two sides met last season Liverpool had already overtaken Arsenal for 3rd.

But despite being in a fight for fourth and all the surrounding drama, Liverpool’s second-team is far stronger than it was last year. Last year’s line-up in this fixture was Reina, Arbeloa, Paletta, Hyypia, Insua, Pennant, Alonso, Sissoko, Gonzalez, Bellamy, and Fowler.

Liverpool have five games to secure the all-important Champions League place for next season. Despite the semi-finals of this season’s Champions League taking precedence, any and all league points are vital.

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