23 April 2010

Liverpool at Burnley 04.25.10

10am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last 4 head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (h) 09.29.09
0-1 Burnley (a; FA Cup) 01.18.05
1-0 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 01.04.97
1-0 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 02.07.95

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Atletico (a); 3-0 West Ham (h); 0-0 Fulham (h)
Burnley: 1-2 Sunderland (a); 4-1 Hull (a); 1-6 City (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 18; Kuyt 9; Gerrard 7; Benayoun 6; Ngog 5; Babel, Johnson 3; Aquilani, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel 1
Burnley: Fletcher 8; Alexander 7; Nugent 6; Elliott, Paterson 3; Blake, Eagles, Thompson 2; Bikey, Caldwell, Fox, McDonald 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Agger
Maxi Gerrard Aquilani Babel

The third game in six days – with Atletico to come on Thursday – means changes, even if it’s the third-to-last league fixture and at Burnley. Thankfully, the team was able to fly back from Madrid instead of taking another tour across the continent.

Benayoun and Ngog seem the least likely to start three in a row, with Lucas also a question. Liverpool’s already laying the groundwork for Ngog’s absence with news that he’s having back problems after yesterday’s match. If Kuyt’s the lone striker, Liverpool will have to get bodies forward to join in the attack knowing the Dutchman’s habit of dropping deep. But I still think Kuyt will be the preferred option; when Benitez made substitutions against Atletico, Babel went to the flanks while Kuyt moved up top. Not that it helped much, mind you.

Guessing Aquilani to start ahead of Lucas may well be a pipe dream, especially on the road. If anything, I’m tempted to mischievously suggest a midfield of Lucas or Gerrard pairing Mascherano, and Aquilani in the “Gerrard role” after the captain’s sluggish display against Atletico. Yet I think the familiar (and not rocking the boat with Stevie) is more likely. Plus, Aquilani seemingly has to feature in one of these games even if I remain adamant that next season will be his true baptism.

Otherwise, the backline still writes itself thanks to injuries and Maxi has to return on the right after recent performances. He more than deserves a goal after coming close against West Ham, Fulham, and Brum, and despite the overwhelming fear of jinxing it, I reckon he’s due on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Burnley is clutching onto its Premiership place by fingernails. The club sits in 19th, a point behind Hull and four behind West Ham, with Liverpool, Birmingham, and Tottenham to come. A 4-1 win at the KC Stadium two weeks ago appeared to be a booster seat to safety, thrashing a dismissal Hull in one of those famous ‘six-pointers’ less than a week being utterly tonked by City. Predictably, Burnley went and lost their next outing to remain mired in the relegation zone.

I gloated in Atletico’s poor form prior to the last match and we saw how that went. And Liverpool’s been undeniably awful away from home all season long. But Burnley’s had few rays of sunshine since some early shocks, and Liverpool deservedly cruised to a 4-0 win in the reserve fixture.

Yes, they beat United at home in the second week of the season and held Arsenal in December, but that was a long time ago. Liverpool’s form may have been consistently mediocre throughout the season, but Burnley’s regressed almost every month. The 6-1 demolition suffered at the hands of City was appalling, and it seemed as if they would have conceded the match if allowed to after conceding the first. Yes, a similar XI came back from an early goal at Hull a week later, but there was a bit more riding on that match, and they were again bossed around at Sunderland. If they're going to escape relegation, they'll have to show some spine in front of their own fans for the first time since facing City.

Liverpool certainly hasn’t put enough teams to the sword this season, but on recent evidence, an early goal could be crucial. As in the home meeting, you can’t expect anything other than capitulation if Liverpool gets a first half opener. But make no mistake; the longer Burnley stay in this match, the more they’ll grow in confidence, and Liverpool has been lamentably predictable pretty often this season.

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