3:05pm, live in the US on DirecTV channel 462 (or in HD on 462-1).
The Europa League is only carried on GolTV and DirecTV. GolTV isn’t showing the Liverpool match live or on tape delay, so if you don’t have DirecTV, you’re probably stuck with a stream. I know you’re sick of me suggesting, but DirecTV is quite awesome and you should get it if you can (although we’re still without FSC HD or FSC+).
Group Stage Results:
Liverpool: 1-2 Fiorentina (h); 1-0 Debrecen (a); 1-1 Lyon (a); 1-2 Lyon (h); 0-2 Fiorentina (a); 1-0 Debrecen (h)
Unirea: 1-3 Stuttgart (a); 1-0 Sevilla (h); 1-1 Rangers (h); 4-1 Rangers (a); 1-1 Stuttgart (h); 0-2 Sevilla (a)
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Everton (h); 2-0 Bolton (h)
Unirea: 2-0 Iasi (h); 3-2 Ceahlaul (a); 2-0 Gloria (h)
Goalscorers (all competitions):
Liverpool: Torres 12; Kuyt 10; Benayoun 7; Gerrard, Ngog 6; Babel 3; Johnson 2; Insua, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel 1
Unirea: Bilasco 7; Onofras 5; Semedo 4; Apostol, Brandan, Frunza 2; Galamaz, Maftei, Paduretu, Rusescu, Varga 1
Referee: Eric Braamhaar (NED)
Guess at a squad:
Kelly Skrtel Kyrgiakos Insua
Babel Gerrard Riera
This is a complete and utter guess at a line-up. It’s even more of a shot in the dark than usual, made less certain by injuries and a crucial game against City three days later.
With Kyrgiakos suspended for the next two league outings and Carragher just recovering from a groin strain suffered against Arsenal, I’m hoping the big Greek lines up in the middle with either Skrtel or Agger. More importantly, I’m really hoping to see Kelly at right back instead of Carragher or Degen. Now that he’s fit after the unfortunate injury against Lyon, we need to see what the young defender can do. He looked the part against the French side, and can’t do much worse defensively than Degen did against the Arse.
I’m also hoping to see Aquilani feature after a virus last week. I don’t know how necessary Mascherano is at home against Romanian opposition, even if he is in tremendous form, but I know he’ll be key against City. Lucas has done an adequate job as a holding midfielder when paired with Aqua or Gerrard, and I think the dynamism of those two going forward will be far more important.
Many will be surprised I’m guessing a start for Babel. I am too. However, I still think Liverpool will stick with the 4-2-3-1, which Ngog has struggled in. Hopefully Riera will be fit given he hasn’t started the last two matches. Maxi’s ineligible, having played for Atletico in the Champions League. Had either Liverpool or Atletico qualified for the CL knockout rounds, Maxi’s be available, but no such luck. I think a front four of Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel, and Riera is the best mix of speed, attacking prowess, and balance possible given injuries and squad depth. Three of the four can switch positions at will. I’m obviously hoping to see Pacheco, as was mentioned in the post-Arsenal comments, but I think it’s far more likely to happen off the bench.
Unirea, joint top of the Romanian league along with Cluj and Steuea Bucharest, hasn’t played since mid-December due to the league’s winter break. And manager Dan Petrescu, formerly of Chelsea, resigned since the draw was made, replaced by Israeli Roni Levy. That name might be familiar – Levy was in charge of Maccabi Haifa when they faced Liverpool in ‘06/07 CL qualifying.
I admittedly know very little about the club. I didn’t see any of their CL games and I don’t know any of the players on their roster. But they beat and held Rangers – who are running away with the SPL – in their two meetings, running Stuttgart and Sevilla close as well.
This will be no picnic. There’s a temptation to put all the eggs in the fourth place basket, but European competition is European competition and a trophy’s a trophy. Liverpool should start with a strong line-up in the hopes of recovering from the Arsenal loss, getting back to the form that saw them unbeaten in seven league games.