18 August 2010

Liverpool v Trabzonspor 08.19.10

2:45pm ET. Once again, no live coverage in the US. If Liverpool make it past this stage, they'll at least be on DirecTV when the Europa League proper begins (if not the more widely carried GolTV), but no one's televising the qualifiers. Check the usual places for streams.

So far this season:
Liverpool: 1-1 Arsenal (h); 2-0 Rabotnicki (h); 2-0 Rabotnicki (a)
Trabzonspor: 2-0 Ankaragucu (a); 3-0 Bursapora (n)

Referee: Thomas Einwaller (AUT)

Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Gerrard Lucas
Maxi Cole Pacheco

Once again, we're facing the dilemma of who to play in Europe before a more important league fixture. Prior to Sunday's match, I probably would have guessed a few more changes than the above. And chances are, with City on Monday, there'll be more changes than I'm guessing.

Trabzonspor won't be pushovers – Liverpool need to put some distance between themselves and the opposition in the home leg, senior players need match practice, and the Europa League still matters for something despite the obvious priority of the league.

That Joe Cole's now suspended for the next three league matches poses a particular question. Does Hodgson start Cole tomorrow to reaffirm his faith in the player or start Aquilani because the Italian's most likely to take over the play-making role against City, West Brom, and Birmingham? I honestly have no idea; this is where the feeling-out period for a new manager has me clueless. I'd wager Benitez would start Aquilani though, not that it matters here.

The only defensive change that seems certain is Agger out – there is absolutely no need to take chances with a concussion – and Hodgson affirmed that both Agger and Mascherano will miss the match in today's press conference. Which probably means a choice between Aurelio and Kelly. Once again, if Aurelio's fit enough, I'd like to see him start, but Kelly was more than adequate at left-back in the previous round. At the same time, Johnson's one of the few I wouldn't mind seeing rested, which is why I've guessed Kelly on the right. Carragher's another, even though the Carragher/Skrtel pairing was fantastic against Arsenal; tomorrow should see either those two continue to anchor the defense or Wilson get the opportunity to show what he can do. It's completely contingent on whether Hodgson reckons Carra's fit enough for three games in eight days.

With Mascherano missing, tomorrow might be a good first match for Poulsen – it depends on how near to match fitness and acclimating to the team Hodgson thinks he is (as said in the above link, he's in the squad) – but it also seems one of those matches where Liverpool would have less of a need for a defensive holding midfielder. Again, I'm certainly not downplaying Trabzonspor, but Liverpool will be at home and looking to attack, which is why I've guessed the Lucas/Gerrard pairing.

With far more senior players registered with UEFA for this round, Pacheco's been shifted to the B-list, but I still think there's an excellent chance of the youngster starting – either in place of Jovanovic (who went off after 66 minutes on Sunday) or Kuyt. Replacing Jovanovic seems more likely; if Kuyt doesn't make the XI, it should be for Maxi, which raises last season's argument about using Kuyt when Liverpool's expected to attack, similar to the aforementioned "holding midfielder" argument.

The other main squad question seems that of Torres. He needs minutes – the manager's said as much – but I still worry about his fitness level. Ngog's in fine form, and another appearance off the bench seems the safer way to get Torres back to full speed. But I certainly wouldn't rule him out, especially if Hodgson makes other changes to the attack and wants to compensate with more firepower. But like Mascherano, it seems more likely that City will be Torres' first concern.

Since we last spoke, when I pretended I'd heard of more of Trabzonspor than its name, Teofilo Gutierrez has scored five goals: a hat-trick in the Turkish Super Cup and a brace in the first match of the Turkish league season – all five of Trabzonspor's goals this season. It's yet more evidence that this side are no Sunday League amateurs, and Liverpool will be tested, even at Anfield. It's also an argument for keeping a strong, settled center-back pairing.

Liverpool needs a dynamic home leg performance to settle the tie and allow Hodgson to rest players for the long trip to Turkey. I assume we're all familiar with the notion of Turkish stadia being irrepressible, frightening cauldrons despite fond recollections of Istanbul. I still can't shake the memory of a 1-2 loss at Besiktas in 2007. But, yes, the Manchester City match will undoubtedly influence tomorrow's line-up and tactics.

Liverpool have the fortune of being at Anfield tomorrow, unlike City and their trip to Romania. Maybe that means more players get a rest – Gerrard, Carragher, Johnson, etc. – with an eye on the league, but I'm sure Hodgson would rather not need to a result in Trabzon, no matter how much everyone's downplaying the Europa League's importance.

Remember how last season's loss at Fiorentina sparked a massive downward spiral? Liverpool had finally looked settled after the early August defeats, winning all five September games after the international break. Then came the trip to Florence, Aurelio in midfield, and an embarrassing 0-2 result. Liverpool subsequently lost the next three matches, against Chelsea, Sunderland, and Lyon, before the false dawn against United. That's where the wheels truly fell off, and that simply cannot happen again. It's not possible to overemphasize how a similar result tomorrow could set the side back.

Get this match out of the way, then play more of the youngsters in Turkey. Worry about City after tomorrow night.


Chris, Live Sports Bars said...

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TimC said...

Good preview, Nate. I think with four games in eleven days and the general lack of squad depth it would make the most sense to play Cole in both cup matches. It would keep him ready to go once he gets off his suspension and perhaps help him and Ngog/Torres develop more of an understanding. I agree 100% that Rafa would go with Aquilani, though. I also would like to see Torres coming off the bench twice in the next four days. I'm tempted to suggest Aquilani alongside Lucas but I think you are right to suggest that it would make more sense to try and kill this tie off in the first leg.

I would also like to see Aurelio involved, but I think he is a player who should only play one full game a week at the maximum. If he is fit to go on Monday, he would be a real asset against The Biggest Club in Manchester and I would include him with Torres in the three substitutes tonight just to get him some match action before Monday.