22 August 2012

Liverpool at Hearts 08.23.12

2:45pm ET, live in the US on FSC

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 3-0 Gomel (h), 1-0 Gomel (a)
Hearts: n/a

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-3 West Brom (a); 3-0 Gomel (h); 1-0 Gomel (a)
Hearts: 2-2 Inverness CT (h); 1-1 Hibernian (a); 2-0 St. Johnstone (h)

Goalscorers (Europa League):
Liverpool: Borini, Downing, Gerrard, Johnson 1
Hearts: n/a

Referee: Florian Meyer (GER)

Liverpool have actually had Meyer as a referee twice before, the 0-0 draw at Sparta Prague in Liverpool's last Europa League campaign and a 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest at Anfield in 2003.

Guess at a line-up
Kelly Coates Agger Robinson
Henderson Allen
Downing Shelvey Sterling

As with every match preview for a cup tie, the question is "how strong with Liverpool's line-up be?" Not only are Liverpool more likely to use youngsters and reserves in this competition, but the subsequent match is against the reigning Premier League champions.

Which meant it was no surprise when the BBC's Ben Smith, and others, reported that Gerrard, Johnson, Skrtel, and Suarez weren't included in the traveling squad earlier this morning.

The provisional squad is reportedly: Reina, Jones, Kelly, Agger, Carragher, Coates, Flanagan, Shelvey, Lucas, Adam, Allen, Henderson, Spearing, Downing, Borini, Carroll, Wilson, Robinson, Sterling, Eccleston.

More than any other, Gerrard should be rested, not only for Saturday's disappointment but because he needs to be used more sparingly this season if he's going to make it through the entire campaign. I was surprised to see him play both legs against Gomel, but that was arguably still preseason. Now, with three matches in eight days, playing him in this one would have been even more surprising and, honestly, makes little sense.

Lucas, even though he wasn't one of those announced as absent, is in a similar situation. He wasn't at his best against West Brom, arguably still showing the effects of his extended injury. Tomorrow's seems a match for the "second-string" midfield: some combination of Henderson, Shelvey, Spearing, and Adam. There have been rumors about both Adam and Spearing leaving Liverpool (the former if anyone will pay £5m, the latter on loan to Bolton), and if any of the usual starters play, Allen seems the likeliest because of his relative inexperience at the club.

Agger looked likely to start even before Skrtel's reported absence, if only because he's suspended for Sunday's match, but the rest of the back four is guesswork. Coates should be the other center-back if Liverpool really are using this competition to develop players (as they should be), but you'll hear the internet howl around 1:45pm ET tomorrow if it's Carragher. Enrique's also still dealing with the knock picked up in training last week. I'm excited to see Jack Robinson play, assuming Jack Robinson does play, and it's not Kelly shifting over to left back with Carragher or Flanagan on the right. Or Agger at left back.

I've been trying to come up with someone other than Downing for the right flank, but Liverpool have so few options. Assaidi is ineligible, cup-tied for just the qualifying stages because of his participation with Heerenveen; reports from Holland also suggest he's more likely to play on the left when available as well. Cole is injured. Suso isn't registered in the UEFA squad, at least for this round, while Pacheco started in Monday's u21 match. With Suarez absent, Borini will probably play in the middle, with Sterling likely to be on the left. I guess there's a small chance Carroll could start up front, flanked by Sterling and Borini, but it seems a very small chance. That leaves Shelvey, who played there in the second half against Leverkusen. And that's it. This position needs needs needs to be addressed before the transfer window shuts, more than any other.

New manager John McGlynn has Hearts playing in a 4-1-4-1 system, winning the opening match of the SPL campaign against St. Johnstone before draws against city rivals Hibernian and Inverness Caley Thistle. If he names a full-strength XI, it should look something like: McDonald; Peterson, Zaliukas, Webster, Grainger; McGowan; Templeton, Taouli, Barr, Driver; Sutton.

Center-backs Zaliukas and Webster are the cornerstones of the side – it's probably no coincidence that Caley Thistle came back from 0-2 down, despite having playing with 10 men, after Zaliukas was injured. If the Lithuanian club captain is unable to play, chances are Barr drops into defense with Robinson coming into the side, as Hearts lined up in the second half on Saturday. Striker Sutton has scored from the spot in two of Hearts' three matches this season, while Driver and Templeton – or Novikovas if he starts instead – are dangerous wingers; each has scored once this season, responsible for the three goals not scored by Sutton.

A mostly full-strength Tottenham demolished Hearts at this stage of the competition last season, winning 5-0 at Tynecastle before the kids and reserves played out a 0-0 draw in London. The Jambos XI will look very different to last year's, with only four to six of the same players that started the loss against Spurs. But that match will almost assuredly be on players' minds before kick-off.

That's obviously not the required scoreline for Liverpool; that was a different, stronger Tottenham side and a different, weaker Hearts. A narrow, 1-0 win would suit me just fine. It could be a lucky 1-0 win for all I care, similar to the away leg against Gomel. The side needs to put Saturday's result behind them as quickly as possible, even if it'll be a very different XI, and an away win is the best way to do so. Further evolution in Rodgers' style would be welcome, more than welcome, but given the likely second-string nature of the squad and the importance of qualifying for the competition proper, the performance matters slightly less than the result.


Steve Jensen said...

Based on "bib theory" plus Rodgers' comments to the press, tomorrow's side appears to be:
Flanagan Agger Coates Robinson
Allen Henderson Adam
Borini Carroll Sterling

Jay Wright said...

IRT Suso, can't U21's play in competitions, irrespective of whether they're registered in the squads for that competition or not?

Irt Pacheco, I can't see why playing on a Monday night would stop a player from playing on a Thursday night. And I'd much rather see him on occupying a wide forward berth than Downing or Shelvey. Not expecting it to happen though, so hopefully he at least makes the bench and has the opportunity to get significant minutes at some point