2:45pm, live in the US on Setanta.
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 6-1 Hull (h); 1-0 Leeds (a); 3-2 West Ham (a)
Fiorentina: 1-0 Livorno (a); 2-0 Sampdoria (h); 1-3 Roma (a)
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Skrtel Carragher Insua
Benayoun Kuyt Riera
Sky Sports certainly threw a spanner in the works this morning, announcing that neither Benayoun nor Mascherano traveled to Italy because of an injury and illness respectively. A couple of hours later, Benitez corrected the Murdoch outfit’s typical piss-poor “journalism.” Mascherano is out because of a tight hamstring, but Benayoun’s in the squad. Phew. That eases a few of the concerns.
After being relegated to the bench on Saturday, I thought Mascherano was a certain starter both here and on Saturday. Let’s just hope the injury heals quickly, because his ability to break up opposition attacks will be crucial against Chelsea. Unless Benitez decides to truly blood Spearing – and this match would be a baptism by fire – Gerrard will remain in central midfield paired with Lucas. I doubt we’ll see Aurelio in midfield for the second time in a week; for all his gifts, he’s too one-footed for this role against most sides.
Had Benayoun not been available, Benitez would have had to choose between Babel and Voronin, and the change in tactics each would entail. As Benayoun seems likely to play, it should be the same line-up as against Burnley, Debrecen, and Hull. Chances are there’ll be a slightly different result given the class of opposition. Hopefully not too different.
As Aurelio seems likely to come back in against Chelsea, he may get a start here so Stamford Bridge isn’t his first start of the season at left back. But I still think it’s going to take a few good performances to dislodge Insua from that role.
Having seen four of Fiorentina’s games so far this season (both legs against Sporting Lisbon, Roma, and Livorno), I’m better qualified to opine on the opponents than usual in CL competition. Fourth in Serie A, they’ve had a relatively strong start to the season, thumping league-leading Sampdoria at home five days ago. Frey is a talented keeper, and did very well against Livorno, but defensive frailties led to all three of Roma’s goals in that match, while the whole team was unconvincing against Sporting (winning on away goals).
19-year-old Stevan Jovetic has scored their key goals, and will star with Gilardino suspended and former Chelsea man Mutu a more peripheral figure since that enormously unfair CAS verdict against him. Jovetic has the makings of a top talent, and the defense will obviously need to cease the silly mistakes to keep him under wraps. Vargas at left back will also pose a threat, and I think we’ll again see Glen Johnson in a more defensive role regardless of who starts on the right wing. Plus, Vargas isn’t too shabby at set plays (gulp).
No matter the lure of Europe, Chelsea on Sunday is a more tantalizing proposition. But we’ve seen Liverpool’s success in Europe push them on in the league before. Another win here – which would be the seventh in a row – is exactly what the team needs to keep momentum going.