01 August 2012

Liverpool at FC Gomel 08.02.12

2:00pm ET, live in the US on FSC (I know, right!)

Previous rounds:
Gomel: 0-1 Renova (h), 2-0 Renova (a); 4-0 Víkingur (h), 6-0 Víkingur (a)

Last three matches:
Gomel: 0-1 Renova (h); 1-1 Polotsk [7-6 pens] (a); 2-0 Renova (a)

Goalscorers (Europa League):
Gomel: Demidovich 3; Hleb, Kashevski 2; Aleksiyevich, Nowak, Timoshekno, Voronkov 1

Guess at a line-up
Flanagan Skrtel Carragher Enrique
Henderson Lucas Shelvey
Downing Borini Sterling

It's been almost 18 whole months. I've forgotten what European football feels like.

Rodgers' first competitive line-up will go one of two ways. Either we'll see most if not all of the first-team regulars who have traveled, or the starting XI will look a lot like the three preseason friendlies.

I've gone for the above guess because I just don't see the point of bringing Lucas, Borini, Henderson, etc. without starting them. Borini may be a special case, because he's unfamiliar with both the club and pan-European competition, but the rest have played in fixtures like this before. Gerrard's also an exception – I'd be surprised if he were given more than a substitute cameo because of his summer workload and injury history – but otherwise, there's little point in bringing the heavy hitters if they're going to sit on the bench in 'break glass if needed' cases. This isn't a friendly; you aren't allowed to make wholesale changes at halftime if the side's more toothless than an old crone. If you think you'll need them, start them, especially those who had little or nothing to do at the Euros. Still, I wouldn't be incredibly surprised if Liverpool's front six was Shelvey, Spearing, Adam; Cole, Morgan, Sterling instead. The above should be the back five regardless of who starts in the front six.

Two who haven't traveled despite being named in the UEFA squad list are Andy Carroll and Daniel Pacheco. The former has a slight groin strain (wink wink, nudge nudge) while the latter played in today's reserve friendly against Huddersfield (along with Suso, Sama, Adorjan, and Wisdom). I may well be reading too much into it, but it doesn't bode well for either, especially Carroll: yet another sign that he isn't wanted, on his way out as soon as he agrees to go to West Ham or Newcastle make a large enough offer. Alas. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, probably sooner rather than later. Eccleston also hasn't been included in the squad list, which means that it has to be 18-year-old Adam Morgan up front if Borini doesn't start.

I admittedly can't tell you much about FC Gomel. They're currently third in the Belorussian Premier League, which began in March, four points behind second place Shakhtyor Soligorsk, but with three games in hand. They've lost just one of their last eight matches, the 0-1 defeat to Renova in the last round of this competition, content to see out a 2-0 advantage from the first leg. They've lost just two league matches since the start of the season, to first-place BATE Borisov and at Torpedo Zhodino, in mid-May and mid-June respectively.

This match report, of the 2-0 win against Renova from Football-Lineups, should give you a decent idea of how Gomel will line up. They'll play 4-2-3-1, and Demidovich – Gomel's top scorer through the first two qualifying rounds – and Nowak will be the biggest threats cutting in from the flanks. The only change in line-up for the second leg against Renova was Bushma, the more-frequent starter, in goal rather than Ostojić.

The one Gomel name you might recognize is Vyacheslav Hleb, Alexander Hleb's younger brother, who hasn't featured since the first qualifying round. I believe he's injured, going off against Víkingur after an 18-minute substitute appearance, but I (read: Google) honestly don't know for sure. Gomel will also be without two usual starters due to the Olympics: attacking midfielder Illya Aleksiyevich and central defender Ihar Kuzmyanok.

I'm tempted to say that Liverpool just need to hold on (which is why I was tempted to guess a weaker line-up), just survive and get back to the more-important second leg at Anfield, where more of first-team players will have trained for a week longer. But that isn't really the case. It's Rodgers first competitive match and first match in European competition. Liverpool need to put last season's failures behind them as quickly as possible; as depressing as it is to write, there's little room for error. Already. Starting the season so soon has its benefits, especially with the devilish start to the Premiership campaign upcoming, with more to gain and more to lose than in the previous half-hearted friendlies. But lose and the knives come out. Already. Lose and heads will drop, with rebuilding the side's shattered confidence already a clear priority.

So just win. Anything less would be uncivilized.

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