17 February 2012

Liverpool v Brighton 02.19.12

11:30am ET, live in the US on FSC.

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 09.21.11
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

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-1 United (h); 5-1 Oldham (h)
Brighton: 1-0 Newcastle (h); 1-1 Wrexham [5-4 pens] (a); 1-1 Wrexham (h)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 United (a); 3-0 Wolves (a); 0-0 Spurs (h)
Brighton: 2-2 Millwall (h); 2-1 Leeds (a); 1-0 Leiceister (h)

Goalscorers (all competitions):
Liverpool: Bellamy, Suarez 9; Carroll, Gerrard 5; Maxi 4; Kuyt 3; Adam, Skrtel 2; Agger, Downing, Henderson, Johnson, Kelly, Shelvey 1
Brighton: Barnes 9; Mackail-Smith 8; Buckley 7; Caskey, Harley, Noone, Sparrow 2; Calderon, Greer, Hoskins, Lua Lua, Navarro, Vicente, Vincelot, Vokes 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

First time Marriner's done a Liverpool game since All The Evil started against United in October.

Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Skrtel Agger Enrique
Kuyt Spearing Gerrard Maxi
Carroll Suarez

Did everyone have a good week? I apologize for the radio silence since Saturday, but the weekend's shenanigans necessitated a small break from football. Recharging the batteries, repressing memories, etc. You know the routine. I don't appear to have missed much, thankfully.

As it's a cup tie, expect some changes, but I'd be exceptionally surprised if Liverpool don't deploy a mostly full-strength lineup. Dalglish has taken the cups very seriously so far, evidenced by Liverpool's progress in both. Plus, it's not as if these ties are sandwiched between league fixtures, as happened earlier in the campaign. There have been eight days since the last match, and there will be seven days until the next – which happens to be the Carling Cup final.

Now back from suspension, will we see Suarez reform his strike partnership with Carroll? Or will Liverpool stick with the 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3/4-1-4-1 whatever it's 4-5-1 formation we've seen in the last five matches? Or will Dalglish keep Suarez in reserve, because it's a cup tie or because of last week's antics?

Not only do I expect Liverpool to keep faith with Suarez (even if he may not deserve it), but also a return to the 4-4-2. The 4-5-1 formation(s) has worked well for Liverpool over the last five matches, but when both Suarez and Carroll started prior to the former's suspension, it was usually in the 4-4-2. At home against Brighton, Liverpool have more license to test that formation than, say, away against Manchester United. Suarez playing wider, with Kuyt, Bellamy, or Downing on the other side of Carroll, remains a possibility, but the Uruguayan's almost always played as an out-and-out striker over the last year.

If Liverpool do play 4-4-2, Spearing and Gerrard seemingly have to be the midfield pairing. Spearing's defensive capabilities are often essential, while Gerrard rightfully remains the first-choice midfielder. Adam's started more matches than all but Reina and Enrique, but the less said about the Gerrard-Adam midfield pairing the better. As usual, questions linger over who plays on the flanks. Dalglish hinted at Maxi's return, fit after missing the last few matches with a foot injury. Kuyt, Bellamy, and Downing are the other options, but Downing's utterly devoid of confidence and form, while Bellamy's pace can be crucial off the bench.

Other than giving Kelly some match time, replacing Johnson at right back, I can't see many alterations to Liverpool's watertight defense. Given the importance of cup runs and the time between fixtures, another match for the Carragher-Coates pairing seems less likely. Skrtel, Agger, and Enrique are definitively first choice. Carragher might make his club record-tying 210th cup appearance replacing Agger, who's always an injury worry, but that's about it.

Brighton are currently 9th in the Championship, just two points off a playoff place. The Seagulls are unbeaten in 2012, last losing at Coventry on New Year's Eve. Since then, they've won five and drawn two in the league – including an impressive 3-0 demolishment of then league-leaders Southampton – and have eked out wins over Newcastle and Wrexham (after a replay and penalties) in the FA Cup. Since we last spoke, Brighton have added Assulin and Razak on loan from Manchester City. Both are eligible to make their debuts on Sunday. The Seagulls have also loaned Joe Mattock and Gonzalo Jara from West Brom and Sam Vokes from Wolves. Poyet is likely to stick with his preferred 4-3-3, with three from Barnes, Buckley, Vokes, and Mackail-Smith leading the line.

Liverpool beat Brighton in the Carling Cup because of a strong first half, allowed to play with the Seagulls standing off, scoring a crucial early goal before Kuyt's game-sealing second on the counter with ten minutes to play. Noone and Buckley both caused problems after the interval, but Brighton's change in tactics – pressing furiously in the second half – lessened the gap between the sides. I doubt Poyet will make the same mistake in this fixture. As in the last meeting, Liverpool will have to put its superiority in possession to use, likely to have more of the ball at Anfield than at the Amex. Converting some of the many chances created would also probably help.

1 comment :

Cofi said...

I agree with most of your points, although I still expect a somewhat mixed-up XI, especially at the back. I wouldn't rule out seeing Aurelio or Robinson at LB.
It's probably going to be Carroll & Suárez up front, and I'm very excited about that.
Then again I would like if we tried more playing 433 with Carroll, Suárez & Bellamy like vs. Fulham, and this is the type of match for that.

PS. Great write-up as always Nate.