09 December 2011

Liverpool v QPR 12.10.11

10am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 02.11.96
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.30.95
1-1 (h) 02.11.95
1-2 QPR (a) 10.31.94

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Fulham (a); 2-0 Chelsea (a); 1-1 City (a)
QPR: 1-1 West Brom (h); 1-2 Norwich (a); 3-2 Stoke (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 4; Own Goal 3; Adam, Carroll 2; Bellamy, Gerrard, Henderson, Johnson, Maxi, Skrtel 1
QPR: Helguson 6; Bothroyd, Young 2; Barton, Campbell. Faurlin, Smith 1

Referee: Lee Mason. Sigh.

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Henderson Adam
Downing Shelvey Maxi

At Anfield against a bottom-half side. What could go wrong? Oh, right. Swansea, Norwich, Sunderland. Well then.

Reina and the back four seem guaranteed, but with Lucas' injury, Spearing's suspension, and the entire strike force misfiring, I don't dare assume to be able to guess the front six with any certainty.

Does Dalglish stick with the 4-3-3 formation, which would suggest dropping Henderson deeper and bringing Shelvey in? Or will Liverpool actually try to play 4-4-2 with Henderson and Adam? Will Maxi, the only player scoring regularly, get back in the lineup? Or will we get some combination of Bellamy, Suarez, and Carroll again? And what about Kuyt – also not scoring, and hasn't started in Liverpool's last two games? So many questions. So many possibilities. So little precedent. Despite not totally humiliating myself with the "What Would Kenny Do" game this season, any predicted XI is less educated than usual.

Suarez seems the only sure starter in attack, and even he's not been in the best form of late. Think it's coincidence he hasn't scored since being charged with racially abusing Evra. Or that his last league goal came in the match prior to United? Or that he needs to be mauled with a dull hacksaw to win a free kick? Or that he's now facing another FA censure for a gesture that has seen multiple members of the England team go unpunished? If any game needed some Uruguayan thunder as a statement of intent, it's tomorrow's.

As for the other lot, Colin Wanker's side remains built in his image: experienced and irritating. At least Barton's amusing (and often redeems himself with Hillsborough campaigning). In 12th, with the same number of points as 9th-placed Villa but a -10 goal difference, Warnock's side are also maddening inconsistent. The three matches that opened the season were a win at Goodison bracketed by comprehensive losses to two sides who now prop up the table. In the last six weeks, they beat Chelsea, gave City one of its closest games of the season, and did something Liverpool notably failed to do – beat Stoke at the Britannia – but have since lost at Norwich and drawn West Brom at home.

With last season's Championship Cassanata wunderkind Taarabt still doubtful, missing the last few games with a thigh strain, the Hoops will probably continue with their 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid. Bothroyd or Mackie lurks around and behind Icelandic battering ram Helguson, Wright-Phillips and Barton patrol the flanks, and Faurlin and Derry hold in midfield. The veteran back-line – Traore (Armand, not Djimi), Gabbidon, Ferdinand (Anton, not Rio), and Young (Luke, not Neil) – is both veteran and settled, but QPR will have to play third-choice keeper Radek Cerny due to Paddy Kenny and Brian Murphy's injuries. In keeping with Liverpool's season so far, I congratulate on his game-of-the-season performance in advance.

Liverpool keep suffering glitches in the mainframe on and off the pitch, and like Monday's loss at Fulham, this will be arguably more of a test than reassuring results against Chelsea and City. The team notably struggles when facing supposedly weaker sides, emboldened against others in the "Big Six" (aside from recent bête noire Spurs). Of those currently in the bottom half of the league, Liverpool have met Norwich, Swansea, Sunderland, and Wolves at Anfield. I doubt I need to remind that they've won just one of those four, and had to fight to hold on against Mick McCarthy's side after taking a two-nil first half lead.

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