20 September 2011

Liverpool at Brighton 09.21.11

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
2-3 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 01.30.91
2-2 (h; FA Cup) 01.26.91
4-0 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.29.85
0-2 Brighton (a; FA Cup) 01.01.84

Previous round(s):
Liverpool: 3-1 Exeter (a)
Brighton: 1-0 Sunderland (h); 1-0 Gillingham (h)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-4 Spurs (a) 0-1 Stoke (a); 3-1 Bolton (h)
Brighton: 0-1 Leicester (a); 1-0 Bristol City (a); 2-0 Peterborough (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Suarez 3; Adam, Carroll, Henderson, Maxi, Skrtel 1
Brighton: Barnes 5; Mackail-Smith 3; Buckley 2; Harley, Hoskins, Noone 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Youngest Premier League referee in history. He's done two Liverpool games in his short career: a 2008 Carling Cup win over Crewe and the 1-2 loss at Blackpool in Dalglish's first league game back.

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Carragher Coates Robinson
Gerrard Spearing Maxi
Kuyt Carroll Bellamy

Sunday? What happened Sunday? I don't remember any match on Sunday. I must have blacked out. Maybe you blacked out.

We saw a much stronger line-up than expected in the last round against Exeter. Odds are we'll see similar tomorrow.

The main question is about Liverpool's captain: will we finally see the return of Saint Gerrard? I'd like to think yes, I want to think yes, but if he wasn't on the bench on Sunday (note: I still don't remember Sunday), is he ready to feature here? I can't help but hope so.

The defense pretty much writes itself. The young fullbacks should both come back into the side. Agger's out for a month with a broken rib. Skrtel's suspended (along with Adam). Either Dalglish is incredibly, jaw-droppingly bold and starts both Wilson and Coates – which would give Liverpool's backline an average age of 19 – or Carragher returns to partner the young Uruguayan. No rest for the weary.

The front six should see a mix of first-teamers and top reserves as in the last round. Maxi and Spearing's lone starts came in the previous Carling Cup tie. Kuyt, held out against Spurs, seems nailed on, as does Bellamy, which would be his first start for the club. Which leaves...

Andy Carroll. Oh, Carroll. I could write a dissertation-length treatise on how nine starts is still too soon to judge, how Sunday's performance means next to nothing thanks to nine men and him relegated to the flank for long stretches, that it's not his fault players around him aren't playing to his strengths (hoofing ≠ strengths), and that his elephant-in-the-room fee really is the primary reason so many are furious with him. I'd rather not. You'd rather I not. Everyone take deep breaths. A Carling Cup match, even a difficult one – and make no mistake, lower league opposition or not, this is one of the toughest ties Liverpool could have been handed – seems an excellent opportunity for him to find both form and confidence. The latter is both my main concern and his main problem.

This match is the definition of a banana skin cup tie. Promoted as champions from League One last season, Brighton's loss to Sven's Leicester on Saturday was their first in this season's nine matches; they currently sit third in the table. The Seagulls won seven of those nine, with the lone draw five weeks ago when hosting Blackpool, beating promotion favorites Cardiff away as well as a full-strength Sunderland in the last round of this competition.

My best guess is they'll deploy as strong a line-up as possible, attempting to add to the many heights hit over the last 12 months – promotion, a glorious new stadium, Gus Poyet's rise as an excellent manager, etc. I won't pretend to have scouted them anywhere near thoroughly, but I do know Craig Mackail-Smith and Ashley Barnes are both very good strikers, midfielder Craig Noone is a Liverpool lad, and they've conceded just five goals so far this season. That's right. Five. However, they're also due to face Leeds on Friday night, 48 hours after this match, which could restrain Poyet's ambition.

It goes without saying that Liverpool badly need the morale boost – the fans probably more than the players. At least with the current manager, we know that the side will be fully prepared for what Brighton has to offer. They won't look past them, but Dalglish also won't build up the opposition as world-beaters like a certain manager did with Northampton Town. There's a job to do, and there's few who'd be more trusted to plan for and do said job than the current regime.

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