24 December 2010

Liverpool at Blackpool 12.26.10

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

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Blackpool (h) 10.3.10
2-2 (h) 01.09.71
0-0 (a) 08.17.70
1-3 Blackpool (h) 05.13.67

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Utrecht (h); 1-3 Newcastle (a); 3-0 Villa (h)
Blackpool: 1-0 Stoke (a); 2-2 Bolton (a); 2-1 Wolves (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 5; Gerrard, Kuyt, Maxi 3; Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Johnson, Babel, Skrtel 1
Blackpool: Harewood, Varney 5; Adam, Campbell 3; Taylor-Fletcher 2; Baptiste, Eardley, Evatt, Phillips, Vaughan 1

Referee: Mike Oliver

Oliver's only been in charge of one other Liverpool match: a 2008 win over Crewe in the Carling Cup.

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Meireles Lucas
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi

Tentatively, it looks as if this match will go ahead. We'll have to wait for a pitch inspection three hours before kickoff for confirmation, but unlike last week, multiple matches haven't been canceled in advance. This is the only Boxing Day fixture in doubt. And if this match is postponed, it'll be the third called off at Bloomfield Road this season. One would hope the Premier League will make undersoil heating a requirement next year.

Gerrard's return finally begs the question of what to do with the midfield. The partnership of Lucas and Meireles has shone in the captain's absence, and Hodgson's been able to play his preferred 4-4-2 formation. In a perfect world, Gerrard would be the player deployed on the right; he was excellent in the position during 2005-06, and we're all aware that Kuyt's had an iffy run of form lately. But more likely is Meireles returning to the right, as against Stoke, Wigan, and Chelsea (and when these two sides met at Anfield). The compromise is returning to last season's formation, with Gerrard playing behind Torres and Ngog left out.

Daniel Agger's also fit again, but I doubt he'll start. He's been out for a long spell, and wasn't in the manager's good graces when healthy. At best, he may get a look-in off the bench. Of course, Agger could start at left-back, where he's seen the most time this season, but if Hodgson hasn't dropped Konchesky with Aurelio fit, I doubt he will for Agger. And, obviously, I hope Konchesky's dropped for Aurelio.

One good thing to come out of last week's postponements is that Charlie Adam's now suspended for this game instead of the previous. Adam is indescribably crucial for Blackpool, and had an enormous impact when these two teams met in October. He provided the excellent throughball that won a penalty and tallied the resulting spot kick for the first goal. With time and space, which Liverpool gave him plenty of in the last meeting, he pulls the strings. In theory, playing the likes of Lucas instead of Poulsen, as happened in October, will give Adam a lot less time and space.

Blackpool are level on points with Liverpool with a game in hand, one place below the Reds on goal difference. Even with a long injury list – including joint-top scorer Marlon Harewood and starting goalkeeper Matt Gilks – the Tangerines are unbeaten in four matches. They beat Stoke in Stoke – something Liverpool never looked like doing this season – and drew at Bolton in their last two. Unlike Liverpool, they've actually been better away from home, taking 14 points from 10 games compared to eight from six at Bloomfield.

As has been repeated time and time again, we need to see Liverpool perform away from Anfield. The late win against Bolton at the end of October remains the side's only away league victory. And we've seen some dire road performances: Newcastle, Stoke, Wigan, and Everton, among many others, pop immediately to mind.

It's nearly the New Year. It's time for this team, and this manager, to start meeting the minimum expectations.

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