11 January 2011

Liverpool at Blackpool 01.12.11

3pm ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Blackpool (h) 10.24.10
2-2 (h) 01.09.71
0-0 (a) 08.17.70
1-3 Blackpool (h) 05.13.67

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 United (a); 1-3 Blackburn (a); 2-1 Bolton (h)
Blackpool: 0-2 Southampton (a); 1-2 Brum (h); 0-1 Man City (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 6; Gerrard 4; Kuyt, Maxi 3; Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Babel, Cole, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Blackpool: Campbell 6; Harewood, Varney 5; Adam 3; Taylor-Fletcher 2; Baptiste, Eardley, Evatt, Phillips, Vaughan 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Aurelio
Meireles Lucas
Kuyt Cole Maxi

The return of the King in the league, in the midst of a crush of games where we're sure to see rotation of some sort.

Gerrard's suspension begs the first lineup question: will he be replaced by Cole or Shelvey? A start for Cole would necessitate a slight change in formation from the predominantly 4-1-4-1 we saw against the Mancs, as Cole's even more an attacking midfielder than Gerrard. But Shelvey could also slot straight into the formation as he did when Liverpool were down to 10 men on Sunday. That Shelvey saw any time in such an important match, let alone when Liverpool were behind and down a man, seemingly shows the faith that Dalglish has in the player.

Another talking point is whether Glen Johnson will walk back into the side after missing Sunday's match when his wife went into labor. Martin Kelly deservedly won many man-of-the-match awards, having now impressed against the likes of Lyon, Chelsea, and United. But Noel at Liverpool Offside wrote an intelligent (if not wholly well-received) piece about the danger of expecting too much too soon from young players. In addition, while Johnson struggled against Blackburn in his last start – and against Blackpool in these sides' last meeting – he's still a very good, if predominantly attacking, right back. No matter Kelly's potential, I'd expect Johnson to return if available. Kelly will have his chances this season.

There are also questions about Agger and Aurelio's ability to play three games in a week. Both will be more valuable against Everton. We saw Danny Wilson on the bench against United; if Agger or Aurelio miss out, maybe it'll be an opportunity for the young Scot, who Dalglish had a hand in convincing to come to Liverpool. At the same time, it's not really a game for Kyrgiakos, with the speedy D.J. Campbell as Blackpool's main threat. Agger's more likely to play than Aurelio – when Agger's fit, there have been fewer concerns over consecutive games than with the Brazilian left back – which means if there are any changes to the back line, Konchesky will probably return to the XI. Fair warning. Be nice.

Other possibilities? Maybe a start for Babel? He played well off the bench on Sunday, offering a more direct attack with Liverpool up against the wall. And while it's an exceptionally tenuous comparison, Dalglish used a similar tactic when in charge of Liverpool in the 1980s – one "winger" tucked in (Kuyt or Maxi) and one far more pacey and direct (Babel in this version, Barnes in the '80s – which is where the comparison becomes stretched). Meireles, who had a tough return from injury on Sunday, could also be withheld if he's not fully fit.

Blackpool are level on points with Liverpool with a game in hand but an inferior goal difference. They're winless in their last three – but ran both City and Birmingham close – yet still haven't suffered the expect fall back to Earth (read: the relegation zone) after such an impressive start to the season. Manager Ian Holloway remains one of my absolute favorites, and has been doing himself favors by talking up Dalglish and Liverpool this week.

Blackpool rested players in FA Cup, making nine changes from the team which faced Birmingham mid-week. The Seasiders' other joint-second top scorer, Marlon Harewood, will miss out through injury, as will starting goalkeeper Matt Gilks, who notably denied Kyrgiakos late late late equalizer in October. Blackpool will almost assuredly stick with Holloway's 4-3-3/4-5-1 variant with Campbell, Taylor-Fletcher, and Varney up front; Adam, Vaughan, and Phillips (or possibly Grandin if he recovers in time) in midfield; and Cathcart, Eardley, Evatt, and Crainey in defense. Ghana's keeper Richard Kingson, formerly of Wigan and Birmingham, is Gilks' back-up.

It's easy to get ramped up for an emotional return against the Mancs. Liverpool's best match of the season had been the 2-0 win against then-league leading Chelsea; other than the embarrassment suffered at Man City, the side's been better against tough opposition. They've rallied when underdogs. As Andy Gray would say, it's a bit harder to do it on a wet Wednesday in Blackpool. Dalglish had less than 24 hours in charge before facing the Mancs; we should see more of his preferred tactics and ideas against the Tangerines. And picking up league wins, especially away from Anfield, remains utterly crucial.

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