20 March 2012

Liverpool at QPR 03.21.12

4pm ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.10.11
2-1 Liverpool (a) 02.11.96
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.30.95
1-1 (h) 02.11.95

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Stoke (h); 3-0 Everton (h); 0-1 Sunderland (a)
QPR: 1-2 Bolton (a); 1-1 Everton (h); 0-1 Fulham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Bellamy, Suarez 6; Gerrard 5; Carroll 3; Adam, Maxi, Skrtel 2; Henderson, Johnson, Kuyt 1
QPR: Helguson 8; Mackie 4; Barton, Bothroyd, Cisse, Smith, Young, Zamora 2; Buzsaky, Campbell, Faurlin 1

Referee: Howard Webb

Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Skrtel Coates Enrique
Henderson Gerrard Spearing Downing
Suarez Carroll

No matter how well Liverpool's consistent line-up has worked over the last two matches, three games in a week makes the same XI unlikely. Maxi almost assuredly won't start two matches in four days, Carragher probably won't start three in eight. At the same time, Agger's still out, as are Johnson and Bellamy. There are also concerns over Kelly and Suarez, both picking up knocks in the second half against Stoke, but neither were mentioned by the manager in his pre-match injury update.

Dalglish has to find the balance between fatigue and a settled, performing line-up. Henderson should reclaim his place on the right, shifting the finally-finding-form Downing back to the left. As usual, I'm again tempted to think Adam will return, but Liverpool have been much better in midfield without him; the Spearing-Gerrard partnership is the first real midfield partnership Liverpool have had since Lucas' injury. Carroll's another who might have trouble starting three matches in a week – if he can't, expect Kuyt to take his place – but Liverpool have won every match that Suarez, Carroll, and Gerrard have all started. Since losing at Bolton in late January, Liverpool are unbeaten when Carroll starts, with six wins and a draw, compared to a draw and three losses without him in the line-up.

Incidentally, Liverpool's line-up in the reverse fixture was fairly similar to that used in the last two matches, except with Kuyt up top and a different central midfield pairing. Liverpool were typically profligate in that match, but narrowly won 1-0 on Suarez's goal. That was one of just four fixtures where Maxi has started on the left and Downing on the right. Liverpool were unbeaten in all four, with FA Cup wins over Stoke and United as well as the 1-1 draw against Blackburn.

In 18th, only off the bottom on goal difference, QPR are winless since January 21, when the side beat fellow relegation candidates Wigan 3-1 at home. Since then, Hoops have lost five and drawn two, including losses against similarly struggling Blackburn, Wolves, and Bolton. QPR are the only side in the league without a win in its last six matches, easily bottom of the form table, and have won just two of their last 19 matches: the aforementioned victory over Wigan immediately preceded by an FA Cup win over League One MK Dons.

However, of those 12 defeats since late November, QPR have lost by more than one goal just once: 0-2 against United three months ago. Every other loss has been by a single strike – whether 2-3 at Blackburn, a relative goal-fest, or 0-1 at Arsenal or versus Chelsea or versus Liverpool. They may have lost far far far too many matches, but they haven't been overwhelmed in any of them.

Hughes has preferred a 4-4-2 formation in the 10 matches since he took over, rarely shifting to a 4-4-1-1 with Buzsaky or Wright-Phillips between the lines. At home, QPR will threaten Liverpool more with two up front, almost assuredly Zamora and ex-Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse. I expect QPR to be relatively unchanged from the side which narrowly lost to Bolton last time out: Kenny; Onouha, Ferdinand, Hill, Traore; Barton, Derry, Diakite, Wright-Phillips; Cisse, Zamora. Barton might play in the center, with Mackie or Taarabt coming in on the flanks, but that's the extent of likely changes.

Cisse can conjure goals from little, well-rounded but erratic, as Liverpool fans most likely remember. Zamora's burly threat is common knowledge. Wright-Phillips, Mackie, and Taarabt are all quick wide players, most dangerous on the counter, which is mostly likely how QPR will have to play. Despite Rangers' lack of goals of late, there are goals in this side. Campbell and Helguson, both out-of-favor since Cisse and Zamora signed during the January window, are QPR's only injury concerns.

Four of Liverpool's next five matches are against sides placed 15th or lower in the league: at QPR, against Wigan, against Villa, and at Blackburn, with a trip to sixth-placed Newcastle smack in the middle. Not to be overly, wrongly optimistic, but the fixture list sets up nicely for a late charge in the league. Of course, this season's largest failing has been frustrating, goal-shy disappointments against sides Liverpool should beat handily. Form and confidence are more important than Liverpool's final league position; finishing the season as strongly as possible is by far the most important goal. The next five matches, beginning tomorrow, will demonstrate how much progress the side has made over the last few weeks.

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