20 April 2012

Liverpool v West Brom 04.22.12

11am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (a) 10.29.11
1-2 West Brom (a) 04.02.11
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.29.10
2-0 Liverpool (a) 05.17.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Everton (n); 3-2 Blackburn (a); 1-1 Villa (h)
West Brom: 1-0 QPR (h); 0-4 City (a); 3-0 Blackburn (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 8; Bellamy 6; Gerrard 5; Carroll, Maxi 4; Adam, Kuyt, Skrtel 2; Coates, Henderson, Johnson 1
West Brom: Odemwingie 9; Long 7; Morrison 4; Scharner 3; Andrews, Dorrans, Fortune, McAuley, Olsson 2; Brunt, Mulumbu, Reid, Ridgewell, Tchoyi, Thomas 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

New referee link; all the ref's previous Liverpool matches, via LFCHistory.net. That website never, ever fails to amaze me. But it's somewhat unnecessary for Swarbrick, who's only done one previous Liverpool match: the 5-1 FA Cup win against Oldham in January.

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

There will have been eight days since the FA Cup semifinal, with another six until Liverpool travel to Norwich. Which means that Dalglish will most likely deploy the strongest possible XI, with little thought for carving out game time for Liverpool's promising youngsters. All focus from now until May 5 will be on keeping key players fit and preparing the side for its crucial FA Cup final, continuing to build confidence and coherence brick by brick.

After scoring the winner in Liverpool's last two matches, Carroll looks certain to start. And when he starts, Liverpool almost always play 4-4-2; the only matches where both he and Suarez started in a three-man front line were at Newcastle, versus Brighton in the FA Cup, at Fulham, and the first 27 minutes of the match at Spurs until Adam was sent off. It's seemingly not an option Dalglish prefers.

So Suarez and Carroll should play up front, Gerrard will play in central midfield, and everyone else will be fit in around those three cornerstones. I'm guessing Downing and Maxi on the flanks because Downing's looked better on the right recently and because of Maxi's goal-scoring exploits against Blackburn. If Downing does play on the right, Bellamy could also get the nod on the left, but Maxi's been in better form in the last two matches. Considering precedent, Downing on the left with Henderson on the right is just as likely, if not more so. Both Maxi and Bellamy started against Blackburn, but Downing seems almost as likely to start as those three aforementioned cornerstones.

I'd also like to see Shelvey paired with Gerrard in the middle; the Spearing-Gerrard axis has infrequently impressed, rarely looking a true partnership, and Jonjo needs game time. But I doubt Dalglish will feel secure without an out-and-out tackler in midfield, even at home against West Brom.

Reina returns from suspension, while we should also see the return of Liverpool's first-choice back four. There's even less of an excuse for Carragher's involvement than last Saturday – and there was little excuse then – while Coates seems unlikely to step in with both Skrtel and Agger fit and rested.

And then there's West Brom. Have you missed Uncle Roy? He hasn't missed you.

Liverpool's six-month Hodgson experiment gave us first-hand experience with how easy it is to guess his side's tactics. West Brom will play either 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1, deep and compact, with two solid lines of four and an extra man either to congest the middle or bolster the attack. In attack, Odemwingie and/or Long will hope to profit on the counter or from set plays. Hodgson chose 4-4-2 in the reverse fixture, ever the ambitious gambler at home, but Tchoyi was sucked deeper and deeper by Liverpool pressure, isolating Odemwingie, and West Brom rarely troubled after Liverpool scored one of its few early goals this season.

I suspect we'll see his other variation at Anfield, with a packed midfield including three from Andrews, Mulumbu, Dorrans, and Scharner; Brunt and Thomas on the flanks; and one of the aforementioned strikers on his own in Liverpool's half. Hodgson's one curveball has been to sometimes use a striker as a winger – either Odemwingie, Fortune, or Cox – which may well be the case on Sunday since he'll undoubtedly focus on counter-attacking.

West Brom have a few injury concerns, with Marc-Andre Fortune – who has sometimes replaced Long or Odemwingie as the spearhead – will be a late fitness test, along with center-back Olsson, while midfielders Morrison and Gera and right-back Reid are out.

Albion's win over Liverpool last April was the club's first since 1981, made ever so much more painful by who their recently-appointed manager was. Otherwise, historically, this fixture has been an easy three points for the Reds. However, this campaign has proven time and time again that history is often insignificant and little comes easy. Still, easy would be more than welcome. Obviously. Liverpool simply need to keep winning, using the remaining league fixtures to continuing building confidence before the season's capstone in the FA Cup final. But, as we've seen too often this season, Liverpool can't solely focus on the cups to the detriment of the league either. Otherwise, they'll be punished, and not for the first time. It'd be yet another step backward after two steps forwards. And because of the opponent, it'd again be more painful than most of the previous painful punishments.

No comments :