04 January 2011

Liverpool at Blackburn 01.05.11

3pm ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.24.10
2-1 Liverpool (h) 02.28.10
0-0 (a) 12.05.09
4-0 Liverpool (h) 04.11.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Bolton (h); 0-1 Wolves (h); 0-0 Utrecht (h)
Blackburn: 0-3 Sunderland (a); 3-1 West Brom (a); 0-2 Stoke (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 6; Gerrard, Kuyt, Maxi 3; Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Babel, Cole, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Blackburn: Kalinic, Pedersen 4; MB Diouf, Nelsen 3; Emerton, Roberts, Samba 2; Benjani, Dunn, Givet, Nzonzi 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Lucas Maxi
Torres Ngog

The ankle injury which saw Meireles removed from Saturday's match in the 20th minute rules him out of Wednesday's match at Blackburn. Otherwise, there's little reason to change the line-up which beat Bolton in the dying seconds.

Most important will be keeping Agger and Aurelio in the squad. Who would have thought that adding two classy defenders would help Liverpool keep possession and play the ball out of defense? Granted, both are frequent injury concerns, and Aurelio rarely played two games in four days in his best spells under Benitez, but if at all possible, both defenders should start. And yet, I can't help but fear Liverpool will return to a backline of Johnson-Soto-Skrtel-Konchesky away from the comforts of Anfield.

In addition, the manager might choose to rest key players with an FA Cup trip to United imminent – he spoke of that possibility earlier today. However – and I'm sure this won't be a popular opinion – if key players need to be rested, do it in the FA Cup. Yes, I'm well aware who Liverpool's opponents are in that competition, but given that the club is currently struggling in the league, that's where the priority lies. Liverpool will need players like Gerrard and Torres if they're going to break the all-consuming away day voodoo tomorrow.

The meeting between these two sides in October was one of the first games where Liverpool actually played to its potential. Coming after embarrassing losses to Blackpool and Everton, the Reds actually took the game to its opponents, maintaining possession and creating chances. A comical own goal equalizer nearly killed any momentum, but Torres found a winner minutes after conceding. The emphatic smackdown had to be one of the reasons Blackburn's new owners dismissed Allardyce upon arrival. Yes, even though that happened a month and a half after Liverpool's win. Blackburn were that pathetic at Anfield, despite the relatively close result.

Rovers' form has been hit-and-miss since Steve Kean took over as caretaker four matches ago. Blackburn looked impressive in a 3-1 win at West Brom, but were easily beaten by both Sunderland (3-0 away) and Stoke (2-0 at home), and could only draw relegation strugglers West Ham at Ewood Park.

Blackburn currently have the same number of points as Liverpool, although with an inferior goal differential and having played two more games. Like Liverpool's last opponents, Blackburn also have a reduced squad list: Kalinic is suspended, Emerton is at the Asian Cup, and Andrews, Grella, Jones, Nzonzi, Roberts, and Paul Robinson are injured. Robinson was especially influential when these two sides met at Anfield. But Blackburn still have the Diouf brothers (FYI: they're not really brothers), especially the infernal El-Hadji, while Pedersen is perpetually a threat on set plays. Even with a weakened squad, Blackburn still have ways to punish Liverpool mistakes.

Obviously, the biggest concerns rest on the fact that this is an away match. We're into the New Year and still wondering when, if ever, Liverpool will be able to replicate Anfield performances on the road. The late win over Bolton in October remains the only away victory of the season. Decent matches against the likes of Blackburn, Villa, and West Ham didn't lead to subsequent away success. If Liverpool are ever going to rise above the 'around 10th' mid-table mire, they need to start winning these winnable away matches.

1 comment :

Matt said...

See the EPLtalk article on Steve Kean (and references to Sammy Lee's Bolton tenure):

Decent article buts importantly underscores Blackburn is a changed side in more ways than injuries.

Hope Hodgson knows a fraction of what you and The Gaffer know.