12:25pm, live in the US on FSC
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 5-1 Newcastle (a); 3-0 Bolton (h); 1-1 Arsenal (a)
PNE: 1-1 Barnsley (a); 2-0 Derby (h); 2-3 QPR (a)
Goalscorers (all competitions):
Liverpool: Gerrard 12; Keane, Kuyt 7; Torres 5; Alonso, Babel, Riera 3; Hyypia 2; Agger, Arbeloa, Benayoun, Carragher, Lucas, Ngog, Plessis 1
PNE: Mellor 8; Brown, Chaplow, Elliott, Nicholson, Parkin, St. Ledger, Wallace 3; Davidson, Jones 2; Mawene, McKenna, Sedgwick, Whaley 1
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Guess at a squad:
Darby Skrtel Agger Aurelio
El Zhar Gerrard Lucas Babel
The cup runs always bring changes to the team, but it seems like Benitez is going to pick a stronger side than lost to Spurs in the 4th round of the Carling Cup two months back, according to comments today.
Gerrard will start, Torres will be available (and almost certainly will begin on the bench), and Aurelio and Skrtel are in contention as well.
Playing Gerrard is the right thing to do. As Benitez says in the article, he hasn’t played a ton of games this season – unlike players such as Kuyt and Carra – and getting right back on the pitch should help him focus on football instead of the impending court case. I suspect Lucas, who’s played very well in his last two appearances, will partner the captain in midfield, giving Alonso and Mascherano a game off, but it is worth noting that Alonso didn’t start in the last match against Newcastle.
Hopefully, both Skrtel and Aurelio will return in defense. As Carra’s played nearly every game, either at center-back or right-back, this should be one he misses. And Hyypia’s played a fair few as well. Which would give Benitez the opportunity to start both Agger and Skrtel – arguably Liverpool’s center-back pairing of the future.
As Insua’s started the last three, if Aurelio’s ready to go, he should be back as well. And to be honest, since I’m expecting Darby on the right with Carra rested and Arbeloa still out, I’m hopeful Dossena won’t start. I haven’t given up on the Italian, but two untested fullbacks in a game where Liverpool will be challenged by a side with little to lose seems like too much change in the backline.
Yes, it’s an away game, but I’d still like to see Liverpool line up in the 4-4-2. The extra midfielder shouldn’t be as necessary against a Championship side, and it’d allow both Ngog and Keane to start up top. Robbie will assuredly play after sitting out the Newcastle match, and an early round FA Cup match seems like another good opportunity to blood the young Frenchman. And, whether or not Liverpool's ahead, behind, or even, I’d like to see Torres replace either of those strikers for some of the second half.
Make no mistake; Preston won’t be pushovers. 7th in the Championship, and only out of the playoff places on goal difference, Alan Irvine (Moyes’ former right-hand man) has his team playing well. That the game’s on their ground benefits them, and at the least, their top scorer, Neil Mellor – the former Liverpool trainee – will certainly be up for it.
Liverpool ended the year in perfect fashion: a 5-1 win away from home to finish 2008 top of the league. Now, let’s see them start the new one in the same manner.