03 December 2011

Liverpool at Fulham 12.05.11

3pm ET, live in the US on espn2. Yep, espn2 is actually airing a Monday game!

Last four head-to-head:
5-2 Liverpool (a) 05.09.11
1-0 Liverpool (h) 01.26.11
0-0 (h) 04.11.10
2-3 Fulham (a) 10.31.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Chelsea (a); 1-1 City (a); 2-1 Chelsea (a)
Fulham: 0-1 Twente (a); 1-1 Arsenal (a); 0-0 Sunderland (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 4; Adam, Carroll 2; Bellamy, Gerrard, Henderson, Johnson, Maxi, Skrtel 1
Fulham: Dempsey, Johnson, Zamora 3; Dembele, Murphy, Ruiz 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Henderson Spearing Adam Downing
Carroll Suarez

They're all uneducated guesses until we see what Dalglish has in mind, but regardless of Lucas' undeniable importance, I don't expect Liverpool to change tack that much with the Brazilian out for the season.

Dalglish has clearly preferred the 4-2-2-2 this season and Carroll's started more often in away matches (West Brom, Everton, Arsenal, Stoke in the Carling Cup). Spearing as a like-for-like replacement for Lucas, in the first game after the injury and with Liverpool away from Anfield, will probably be the first fallback option. Henderson on the right instead of Kuyt, who's started the last two league games there, seems a likely half-measure used to add another body in the middle when Liverpool are without the ball given the ex-Sunderland midfielder's proclivity for coming inside.

Once again, it's difficult to argue Maxi shouldn't keep his place, scoring in both starts against Chelsea in nine days, but I think we'll see Downing back in the XI, replacing the Argentinean as he did against City, used to help stretch Fulham's defense and aim crosses into the box. Bellamy's another in a fine vein of form, and could start in place of Carroll. But Carroll been used far more away from Anfield, and played well aside from the missed penalty on Tuesday. There's also the more-important question of whether Bellamy's fit enough for two starts in fewer than seven days, something he's not done all season unless we're counting that moronic Rangers friendly. Given each's respective abilities, it's not out of the question to suggest Downing should play if Carroll plays, and Maxi should if Bellamy does.

Admittedly, there's something to be said for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Suarez up front and Maxi included, as that's how Liverpool ran roughshod at Craven Cottage last season. But as against City last weekend, I expect Dalglish to stick with this season's preferences rather than try to replicate one of last season's triumphs.

Martin Jol's tenure has begun in fits and starts, with Fulham currently 15th after finishing 8th last season under Hughes. There are signs of a team in there: one dominant 6-0 win over QPR, more-than-competent draws against Arsenal and City, and good form in the Europa League. But they've been all-too-often dismal as well: insipid in 0-2 losses at Stoke and Wolves, and 1-3 losses versus Everton and Tottenham.

Zamora was a handful when coming on in the second half in last May's meeting, causing Skrtel multiple problems and setting up Dembele's consolation. Dembele and Dempsey are both dangerous attackers, as is Bryan Ruiz if he starts on the right. Dempsey cutting in from the left can cause Johnson problems if his positioning isn't spot on. Only Damien Duff is unlikely to feature after re-injuring his calf against Twente; both Dembele and Dempsery – the other worries – should be fit.

When decent, Fulham are at least very hard to beat, with six of the 13 league matches finishing level, three at 0-0. Hangeland and Hughes – both run ragged by Suarez last May – are intelligent, strong defenders, while Schwarzer's prone to stop-stopping heroics. Which is slightly foreboding given how many scoring opportunities Liverpool have somehow failed to take, or how many opposition goalkeepers have had the game of the season against the side.

Lucas' absence may be an enormous setback for both club and player, but primary concerns still center on Liverpool finishing its chances and winning the matches they're supposed to win.

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