3:05pm Eastern Time. Once again, I think US viewers are stuck looking for streams if they don't have lfc.tv's e-season ticket.
0-0 on aggregate.
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Boro (h); 1-0 Sunderland (a); 0-0 Standard (a)
Standard: 3-0 KVC Westerlo (h); 3-1 Dender (a); 0-0 Liverpool (h)
Referee: Massimo Busacca (SUI)
Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Alonso Benayoun
Benitez has ruled out both Lucas and Mascherano, with this game coming too soon after their return from the Olympics, but hopes they’ll be back for Sunday. So unless Babel starts, I doubt we’ll see any changes from the team that beat Boro. Babel always seems more likely to come off the bench, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him in place of Benayoun after the last couple of games.
The Olympics and Rafa’s slimming of the squad have led to a lot less rotation (much to the media’s chagrin, I’m sure). Skrtel, Hyypia and Agger have split time partnering Carragher, and Plessis started the first two matches in place of Gerrard and Alonso respectively, but that’s it. Plessis hasn’t seen time since the first half against Sunderland, and Gerrard starting this time around (having only come off the bench because of a thigh strain in the last leg) will hopefully make a major difference.
If Hyypia’s fully fit (he picked up a hamstring injury at Sunderland, but in the same interview, Benitez said everyone’s available), I think there’s a good chance he’ll start. Even at his age, he’s imperious in the air, which Liverpool needs if the previous meeting set any precedent. Hopefully that would lead to Carragher moving to right back, which I admittedly have been suggesting more and more, but I think we’ll have to wait on that debate.
Standard has won their last two games by a 6-1 margin, and Mbokani, the danger-man in the last meeting (along with Fellaini), scored four of those goals. American defender Oguchi Onyewu should return after serving a suspension, as should Jovanovic, who was left out because of a possible transfer move to PSV that has seemingly fallen through. The last leg showed that the Belgians are no minnows, and Benitez says this is the toughest team Liverpool’s faced in the qualifiers since he became manager. These inclusions should make Liege even better.
It’ll certainly be a different game as it’s at Anfield, but that doesn’t assure victory. Two wins and a draw with the performances in the past three games is a fantastic return, but Liverpool can’t keep relying on guts and luck.
A fluke goal leading to a score draw would mean an exit from the competition, and Liverpool would miss out on the lucrative group stage at a time when money’s tight. I hate that it’s this way, but there’s a reason pretty much everything written about this game mentions Champions League revenue.
It’s not really possible for Liverpool to play as badly as they did in Liege. Yes, there hasn’t been enough progress over the last two matches, but there has been some. Little by little we’re seeing more moments where Torres and Keane click, which is no small matter. And yes, Fortress Anfield on a European night has been a massive advantage in the past.
But stranger things have happened, and it only takes a moment of brilliance or luck to decide a match. This certain match has a greater impact on the rest of the season, and Liverpool’s fortunes as a whole, than most.