27 April 2012

Liverpool at Norwich 04.28.12

12:30pm ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 10.22.11
2-1 Liverpool (a) 01.03.05
3-0 Liverpool (h) 09.25.04
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.29.95

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 West Brom (h); 2-1 Everton (n); 3-2 Blackburn (a)
Norwich: 0-2 Blackburn (a); 1-6 City (h); 2-1 Spurs (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 8; Bellamy 6; Gerrard 5; Carroll, Maxi 4; Adam, Kuyt, Skrtel 2; Coates, Henderson, Johnson 1
Norwich: Holt 13; Morison, Pilkington 8; Surman 4; Hoolahan 3; Jackson, Johnson, Martin 2; Barnett, E Bennett, Howson, Wilbraham 1

Referee: Mark Halsey

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

Yes, yes. Let's get the jokes out of the way now. We all know how this will go. Liverpool will start afire, have three to five outstanding sights at goal, fail to take any of them, succumb to an unlikely goal against the run of play, and maybe maybe maybe battle back for an equalizer, if that, but no more. Everyone laughs, end scene, roll credits. Joy.

That was pretty much Liverpool's previous match against Norwich, except Liverpool scored first, and has pretty much been most matches this season, much to our chagrin. Liverpool wholly dominated the beginning of the reverse fixture, denied by multiple excellent saves and the woodwork, Liverpool finally scored just before half time, but Liverpool failed to extend the advantage. Norwich found an unlikely equalizer when Holt powered Pilkington's cross (plus Johnson and Carra) into the net, and Liverpool struggled until an injury-time flurry, denied a winner by more goalkeeper heroics.

We'll see a glut of changes for the midweek match against Fulham, the one directly prior to the FA Cup Final. This, on the other hand, will most likely be similar to last week's XI against West Brom – probably as strong as possible, with players likely to feature at Wembley.

Gerrard's probable return should see him slot straight back into the middle, probably with Spearing, shifting Henderson to the right with Downing back on the left. Kuyt and Maxi should return to the bench, more likely to play against Fulham. If it's not Henderson and Downing on the flanks, Bellamy seems more probable than either of Liverpool soon-to-be-sold veterans. Once again, I also expect Carroll to partner Suarez. But once again, this is truly a guess at a line-up, as Dalglish continues to tinker with both tactics and formation, even in late April. However, this lopsided 4-4-2 has been the most often used formation.

Norwich, safely ensconced in 13th, well outside the relegation zone, has little to play for other than pride. Just like Liverpool. The Canaries, along with Stoke, are at the bottom of the mid-table pack which Liverpool barely sits near the top of, two points behind 7th place Everton. With safety assured, Norwich have both beaten Tottenham 2-1 at White Hart Lane and lost 1-6 to City on its own ground (or 0-2 to relegation candidates Blackburn) recently. The long season's caught up with Lambert's side in certain matches, losing seven of 11 since mid-February.

Norwich have a couple of injury concerns, two of whom are former Liverpool players. Whitbread and Ayala, frequent starters in defense, will both miss out against their former club, just as both missed the reverse fixture. Left back Tierney is also on the casualty list. Lambert's flexible side will probably play some variation of 4-4-2, whether an orthodox set-up, 4-4-1-1, or 4-1-3-2. The previous meeting was an apt demonstration of how Holt can punish negligent opposition, while Steve Morison has similar qualities and Hoolahan is dangerous between the lines.

If Norwich win tomorrow, they'll be level on points with Liverpool. And Liverpool would probably be in the bottom half of the table, currently level on points with Fulham, only a point ahead of 10th place West Brom and two ahead of 11th place Sunderland. For all the pain of this season's campaign to date, and all the excuses about Liverpool's terrible league form since fourth place became a wholly lost cause, the top half and bottom half represent a clear dividing line, if only mentally. Simply put, while there's little difference in seventh, eighth, or ninth, there's a very large difference between those places and 10th or lower. Even if all the focus is on next Saturday's cup final, Liverpool cannot cross that Rubicon.


Anonymous said...

hey nate, great blog. I have a quick question, bit unrelated to this post but anyway. What happens to fourth place if chelsea win the cl?

nate said...

Sorry I missed this earlier. If Chelsea win the CL, fourth place (if it's not Chelsea) goes to the Europa League.