10am, live in the US on Setanta.
Last 4 head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (h) 02.23.08
1-1 (a) 01.12.08
2-0 Liverpool (h) 04.18.07
0-0 (a) 11.18.06
Liverpool: 1-0 Sunderland (a)
Middlesbrough: 2-1 Spurs (h)
Referee: Mike Riley
Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Alonso Benayoun
Yes, I know, except for Agger, this would be the same line-up that struggled at Sunderland.
If Lucas and Mascherano were available, I’d guess different. But with those two missing from central midfield, Pennant seemingly cast aside, and Babel probably not ready to start, I don’t see many options.
Admittedly, this is more what I expect to see rather than want to see.
Not even considering Kuyt or Benayoun (it’s not like Liverpool is stacked with options on the flanks, especially if they play with 2 strikers), the one change I’d be tempted to make would be Carra at right back with Agger and Skrtel in the center, if Skrtel’s fit enough. Alvaro disappointed last time out, while Agger and Skrtel have the potential to be Liverpool’s central pairing for the next decade. And Carragher can certainly do a job on the right, although admittedly, you’re not going to get a lot from a right flank of Carra and Dirk in Boro's final third. But Liverpool should still be able to cope.
Any other changes would probably be because of midweek international friendlies, with Benayoun maybe making way for Aurelio, but since most of Liverpool’s first-teamers were in action on Wednesday, I’ve no idea.
Babel returned to Anfield earlier in the week, and while I expect (hope?) he at least makes the bench, I imagine the time difference and lack of preseason preparation will preclude him from starting. But to be honest, Babel was at his best last season coming off the bench anyway. Part of the development we hope to see this season is improvement when he starts, but I think it’ll be a process, just like bedding him into the first team was last season.
Even though Spurs were fairly impotent (like in their first match last season), Boro was impressive a week ago with a 2-1 win at the Riverside. Southgate promised to attack in comments before the match, and attack Boro did, with goals from Wheater and Mido, and Afonso Alves also looking lively.
Spurs may have had more possession, but Boro was good on the counter, and far more lethal than their opponents. Which sounds like how Liverpool games are prone to playing out at times. Liverpool doesn’t have any defenders like Michael Dawson (thankfully), but they can be exposed on the break, and usually have more possession than their opponents even if they’re struggling for shots. That’s part of the reason I suggested Carra as right back earlier in this preview.
Downing has been linked with Liverpool recently. I don’t really put much weight in that, because even if Benitez did want him, I doubt Boro’s selling (and I really doubt they’re selling to Liverpool after the Ziege incident). Downing is Boro’s best player though, and was excellent at Anfield last season. But I believe a flank of Kuyt and Carragher (or Kuyt and Arbeloa for that matter) can keep him quiet, or at least push him centrally where he’ll have far less time and space.
Liverpool have to show more cutting edge and far more incisiveness in the final third in their Anfield debut than they did at the Stadium of Light last weekend. It’s also troublesome coming back from an international break. Torres played over an hour for Spain while Alonso played the second half and Reina got a 15 minute run-out, Gerrard got an hour for England, Kuyt was a sub for the Netherlands, Dossena played the second half against Austria, and Agger, Keane and Benayoun played the full 90 for their countries.
The team (well, Torres) did well to eke a tough win at Sunderland last Saturday, which gave Liverpool the three points to start the season the right way. They have to build on that in their first match at Fortress Anfield.