2:45pm, live in the US on Setanta
Last 4 head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 01.02.10
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.15.08
1-3 Reading (a) 12.08.07
4-2 Liverpool (a; Carling Cup) 09.25.07
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Reading (a); 1-0 Villa (a); 2-0 Wolves (h)
Reading: 1-1 Liverpool (h); 1-4 Plymouth (a); 1-1 Swansea (h)
Goalscorers (all competitions):
Liverpool: Torres 12; Benayoun 7; Gerrard, Kuyt, Ngog 6; Babel 3; Johnson 2; Insua, Skrtel 1
Reading: Sigurdsson 7; Rasiak 6; Church 5; Bignall, Hunt, Mills, Mooney, Pearce 2; Cisse, Howard, Kebe, McAnuff 1
Referee: Phil Dowd
Guess at a squad:
Darby Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
So much for no winter break in English football.
With more than 10 days since the last match, the fixture that forced this replay, I imagine we’ll see an even stronger team than that which lined up at the Madejski. Yes, Liverpool travel to Stoke three days later, for a 7:45am kick-off, but the team desperately needs a win, and needs to put the last underwhelming performance behind them. You know, for a change…
As this replay is the last of Mascherano’s four-match suspension, Liverpool will probably shift back to the 4-2-3-1. That this game is at Anfield makes Aquilani more likely to feature, and Lucas should provide enough protection as the midfield shield, like against Villa. Gerrard sitting deeper in midfield, along with Lucas in a 4-4-2, was absolute pants last time out, only further marginalizing the struggling captain, despite his crucial goal.
It’d be nice if Riera were fit – Liverpool misses the different option he provides on the left – but I still don’t believe we’ll see Babel from the start. Even if he’s not being sold (which is most likely because Benitez wouldn’t be allowed a replacement), we haven’t seen any sign that the Dutchman’s getting more time – or that he deserves it. Until then (or until Maxi Rodriguez’s deal goes through), it’s Kuyt and Benayoun on the flanks. Liverpool has no need for the conservative tactic of starting both Aurelio and Insua on the left, especially with a tougher game three days later and Spurs in a week.
While I hope to see a stronger backline – with Agger replacing Skrtel and Carra shifting to his preferred right centerback spot – I’d still rather Darby get a second successive start than have Carragher at right back. With Kelly out for at least another week and the Degen to Stuttgart rumors picking up pace, Darby and Carra seem the only two options. And while Carragher’s experience will probably be preferred against Spurs (and possibly Stoke), Darby needs games like this for experience and to prove if he’s capable.
Like Liverpool’s match against Spurs this weekend, Reading’s contest with Newcastle was also postponed. The Royals are still winless since sacking Brendan Rodgers, and will be without new signings Andy Griffin and Gunnar Thorvaldsson as they weren’t registered for the first match. Marek Matejovsky, who scored in the last league meeting between the clubs, will be fit again after a broken jaw, while keeper Adam Federici, who limped off at the Madejski, should return as well.
That both teams should and will prioritize their respective leagues won’t lead to a half-hearted game. As said above, both teams will probably deploy close to their strongest XIs. At the least, Liverpool will need to in the hopes of avoiding Manchester United’s fate. And at the same time, there’s only so many ways to write that Liverpool needs to win and needs to turn a corner sometime. Here’s hoping it’s tomorrow.