11 February 2011

Liverpool v Wigan 02.12.11

10am ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 11.10.10
0-1 Wigan (a) 03.08.10

2-1 Liverpool (h) 12.16.09
1-1 (a) 01.28.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Chelsea (a); 2-0 Stoke (h); 1-0 Fulham (h)
Wigan: 4-3 Blackburn (h); 2-2 WBA (a); 0-0 Bolton (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard, Kuyt, Meireles 4; Maxi 3; Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Cole, Johnson, Skrtel, Suarez 1
Wigan: Rodallega 7; N'Zogbia 4; Cleverly, McCarthy, Watson 3; Alcaraz, Gomez, Moses, Stam 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

Guesses at a line-up:
if 3-5-2
Kelly Carragher Agger
Johnson Gerrard Lucas Meireles Aurelio

if 4-3-3/4-2-3-1
Kelly Carragher Agger Johnson
Lucas Gerrard
Maxi Meireles Suarez

Will Liverpool stick with three at the back? That I'm listing two guesses for lineups should demonstrate my uncertainty. The match against Stoke proved three at the back can be attacking despite an excess of defenders, but Stoke presented far different challenges than Wigan will. Wigan often play 4-5-1, as the Potters did, but don't have the height or set play threat that Stoke provides. Rodallega is a completely different forward than Carew.

What seems certain is that we'll finally see Suarez unleashed. I can't help but wonder how he'd fit into the 3-4-2-1 or 3-5-1-1. He rarely, if ever, played as a lone striker for Ajax or Uruguay. Suarez's entrance against Stoke saw a shift to a more-orthodox 3-5-2, but the game was far more stretched as Liverpool had taken the lead.

Injury concerns have increased in the last week. Shelvey's definitely out. Skrtel, Gerrard, and Kelly are questionable after knocks against Chelsea; all three pulled out of mid-week internationals. The BBC seem to think that Kelly and Gerrard are likely to play, while Skrtel's the biggest concern. The former two will probably be late decisions taken tomorrow.

Depending on the formation, Gerrard would be replaced by Maxi or Aurelio (3-5-2) or Poulsen or Spearing (4-3-3/4-2-3-1). As usual, I find it hard to believe the captain will be absent. Skrtel could be replaced by Kyrgiakos or Kelly if Liverpool stick with three centerbacks; I wouldn't mind seeing Kelly as the right-sided CB, knowing he can get forward as Agger and Skrtel did against Stoke. If Liverpool go with four at the back – which I think is slightly more likely – he'd probably be dropped for a Carra/Agger pairing anyway.

With 12 games to play, Wigan find themselves in the relegation zone on goal difference. They've won on the road twice all season – the last on Boxing Day – but have as many draws as losses away from home. The Latics have the same number of total losses as Liverpool – 10 –  but like Birmingham, Wigan are near the bottom of the table because of too many draws both home and away.

Hugo Rodallega has been a constant thorn in Liverpool's side, while N'Zogbia's also capable of magic, although often over-elaborate. James McCarthy's return is a huge boon, with two goals in Wigan's last match – including an absolute beauty (starts at 00:17). Marking the attacking midfielder will fall under Lucas' brief. Defender Gary Caldwell has a fractured cheekbone, while last summer's supposed target Mayner Figueroa is carrying a hamstring problem.

Liverpool have struggled at the DW Stadium in recent years, drawing twice and losing once in the last three games, but have taken all three points at Anfield in four of the five meetings since Wigan's promotion in 2005.

Liverpool have an away match in Prague on Thursday, the start of the Europa League knock-out rounds, but I expect more "rotation" there than tomorrow. There are 15 days until Liverpool's next league match at West Ham. We've seen a marked improvement in form – four successive wins with four successive clean sheets – and Liverpool are finally playing the sort of football we know this squad is capable of. But resting on laurels after Sunday's accomplishment could see Wigan pull one over on the club yet again, no matter the manager or starting XI.

No comments :