2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus
Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Wigan (a) 03.08.10
2-1 Liverpool (h) 12.16.09
1-1 (a) 01.28.09
3-2 Liverpool (h) 10.18.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Chelsea (h); 3-1 Napoli (h); 1-0 Bolton (a)
Wigan: 1-2 Blackburn (a); 0-2 Fulham (a); 2-0 Swansea (h)
Liverpool: Torres 4; Gerrard 3; Kyrgiakos 2; Kuyt, Maxi, Ngog 1
Wigan: N'Zogbia, Rodallega 3; Alcaraz, Gomez 1
Referee: Peter Walton
Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Johnson Meireles Lucas Maxi
As crazy as it sounds, this will be as much a sign of Liverpool's progress as Sunday was. Success in the Premier League is won on wet Wednesdays at Wigan, after all.
In theory, I'd love the same team as against Chelsea, continuing the high earned after that match. But there's a fear over the team's exertions – clearly exhausted by the 75th minute – and the short recovery time. That fear stands out for five players: Kuyt, Torres, Lucas, Meireles, and Maxi. Kuyt's only recently back from injury, Torres' struggles are well-documented, Lucas and Meireles put in miles of running on Sunday, and we haven't seen how Maxi copes with playing multiple games in the space of a few days since he's rarely had an extended run in the side. My guess is that Torres will be risked, Kuyt will be rested, and Maxi will continue on the left in Cole's absence. One of Meireles or Lucas will probably be on the bench – hopefully replaced by Spearing instead of Poulsen – although I can't bring myself to put that in the above guess. And the above is truly a guess; Hodgson gave us few clues in today's press conference.
He did say that Kyrgiakos and Cole are still out, but Johnson's most likely fit again, and should start unless there's a setback in training today. Whether that start will come in midfield – as was rumored against Chelsea before picking up a knock – or at fullback is the big question.
I'm not as intrigued by Johnson in midfield as many seem to be and I don't see the same parallel with Gareth Bale. Bale's pure speed and close control are his main weapons in attack, better suited further up the pitch. Johnson's at his best when he has room to gain a head of steam, allowing him to sprint past static defenders after already starting his mazy run. His control's not as good – as evidenced by the somewhat lucky penalty won against Napoli, among other moments – and I think he needs the space coming from fullback provides to be successful in the final third. Nonetheless, I imagine we'll get a chance to find out.
Wigan's amidst a poor spell – in the relegation zone having won once in the league since August and without their creative hub in James McCarthy – but this won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Wigan had specialized in draws before the two recent road losses, and Liverpool hasn't made any away matches easy for themselves this season. The Latics have only tallied eight goals this campaign, the fewest in the league, but have given Liverpool a tough game in each of the last six meetings – especially at the DW Stadium. The 0-1 loss in March 2010 was that campaign's final nail in the coffin, while the 1-1 in '08-09 was one of many regrettable draws which saw Liverpool narrowly miss out on the league title. The club's current joint top-scorers both struck in last season's meetings – Rodallega with the winner in March, N'Zogbia with a consolation in December.
Wigan will miss McCarthy, as well as the suspended Gohouri, but Roberto Martinez is no mug – a good manager and tactician – and will set out his side to spoil and counter, probably in a 4-5-1 as against Blackburn last Saturday. Wigan can play two up front, with former Chelsea striker Franco Di Santo partnering the Colombian, but rarely do against the top sides – and, yes, we're still including Liverpool in that classification despite all evidence to the contrary. Rodallega will be the main threat on the counter, having given Carragher headaches in the past, as will N'Zogbia, most likely down Liverpool's right (which could be another argument for doubling up Johnson and Kelly on that flank). Gomez will be the axis in midfield, while Diame and Thomas will looks to close down. Liverpool cannot sit back and hope to pick up a narrow away victory, as they did at Bolton, or we're in for a long, ugly night.
So let's see how much progress Liverpool's made.