28 August 2010

Liverpool v West Brom 08.29.10

10am ET, not on live in the US. Delayed at 7pm on Fox Soccer Plus.

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (a) 05.17.09
3-0 Liverpool (h) 11.08.08
2-0 Liverpool (a) 04.01.06
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.31.05

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Trabzonspor (a); 0-3 City (a); 1-0 Trabzonspor (h)
WBA: 2-0 Leyton Orient (a); 1-0 Sunderland (h); 0-6 Chelsea (a)

Referee: Lee Probert

Pretty sure this is the first time Probert's been in charge of a Liverpool game.

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Agger
Lucas Gerrard
Babel Kuyt Jovanovic

I do wonder whether we'll see 4-4-2 for a second league game with Cole banned for two more matches, and if we do, it should work better against the likes of West Brom at home. But I can't get out of the habit of guessing 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1, even if Cole's suspension and Hodgson's seeming unwillingness to play Gerrard behind the striker makes it a tough line-up to predict.

If Gerrard doesn't play behind the striker – and he might if Meireles signs, but I'm struggling to see it tomorrow – the options are seemingly Kuyt, Maxi, or Pacheco. Kuyt infrequently played in the hole during Rafa's tenure, and is usually the target for Carragher and Reina's punts forward, but he'd have to be a lot better than he was on Thursday. Maxi's participation is doubtful for the same reason he was ruled out against Trabzonspor – gastroenteritis – but it's tempting to hope he's recovered, for the usual "do we really need Kuyt against the bus-parkers?" debate. And Pacheco could have a role to play after his intriguing cameo on Thursday and the news that he's extended his contract for two more years.

Guessing Babel on the right is due to guessing Kuyt in the middle and assuming Maxi's still out, but I certainly wouldn't mind Pacheco starting there. While it seems like Hodgson sees Babel as a striker, I'd like to see him get a chance on the right, where he's not limited to cutting in and blasting shots with his right foot. But if Maxi's healthy, Maxi should start. Torres should also be fit enough for a recall, rested during mid-week and evidently fit enough to make the Spain squad for next week's Euro qualifiers, in place of either Babel or Ngog.

As usual, I question whether Aurelio will be able to play successive games, which is why I'm guessing Agger – who should be over his concussion by now – at left back, although Kelly's obviously a possibility. Similar goes for Poulsen, who's still finding match fitness, which is another reason why I've guessed a Lucas/Gerrard midfield.

While a promoted side Liverpool would expect to beat no matter the circumstances, West Brom under Di Matteo will be a tougher proposition than in past meetings. More compact that Mowbray's team, the Baggies still look to attack, evidenced by how open their first game of the season was – a six-nil hammering at Stamford Bridge. They've somewhat bounced back in subsequent matches, narrowly beating Sunderland with a goal from debutant Peter Odemwingie before a league cup win at Leyton Orient. As well as Odemwingie, James Morrison and Graham Dorrens are both good players, while Chris Brunt can punish any side on set plays. And I'm always worried when Liverpool faces former keepers; Scott Carson had one memorable game, the win over Juventus, and has rarely impressed since, but former Reds (usually James and Friedel) often plays a blinder against Liverpool.

Liverpool certainly can't put the cart before the horse, but three points are an absolute must tomorrow. The first league win of the season is essential against the likes of West Brom; we can respect how they've grown under Di Matteo, and recognize that no game's ever easy, even against promoted sides and with the state Liverpool's in. But Liverpool absolutely have to take maximum points, continuing to build on the morale gained from progression past Trabzonspor.

No comments :