29 December 2012

Liverpool at QPR 12.30.12

11am ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
2-3 QPR (a) 03.21.12
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.10.11
2-1 Liverpool (a) 02.11.96
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.30.95

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Stoke (a); 4-0 Fulham (h); 1-3 Villa (h)
QPR: 1-2 WBA (h); 0-1 Newcastle (a); 2-1 Fulham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 11; Gerrard 4; Skrtel 2; Agger, Cole, Downing, Enrique, Johnson, Şahin, Sterling 1
QPR: Taarabt 4; Cisse, Zamora 3; Mackie 2; Granero, Hoilett, Nelsen 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Henderson Allen
Downing Suarez Sterling

Joy. Another "bounce back" match. Haven't been enough of those so far this season.

Unlike on Boxing Day, there should definitely be some changes for this one. As usual, the preeminent questions are about rotation in midfield and who'll play on the flanks in attack. With the preferred back four fit, the preferred back four will start, despite concerns about form after the displays against West Ham, Villa, and Stoke.

That Rodgers spoke about the need to manage Lucas' fitness when discussing injury concerns makes me think that the Brazilian may be left out of tomorrow's XI. Although that might not be the smartest idea with QPR's Adel Taarabt lurking dangerously between the lines.

Regardless, I'd be incredibly surprised if Allen didn't start for the third successive match. And assuming Lucas doesn't start, that leaves Shelvey and Henderson competing for the last spot. Because Gerrard's starting because Gerrard starts, end of discussion. Either Henderson can play deeper, with Allen behind Gerrard, or Shelvey reprises the attacking midfield role he played against Fulham and Stoke. Considering how poorly his last performance went, I'd think the former is the more likely possibility. But again, this is all dependent on whether I'm reading the tea leaves correctly, and Rodgers truly will rest Lucas.

The front three seems slightly more straight-forward. Like Allen, Sterling also looks certain to come back into the side, meaning Downing and Suso are in contention for the final slot; as far as we know, Assaidi's still battling a knee problem, and Joe Cole has reverted to being Joe Cole after his one-off rage against the dying of light against West Ham. After his inauspicious display against Fulham, and despite the team-wide failure against Stoke, Downing seems deserving of a run of games, a chance at multiple consecutive starts under Rodgers before the opening of the transfer window.

After a month on the job, Harry Redknapp's QPR remain rooted to the bottom of the table, but only behind Reading on goal difference (at least until Reading host West Ham later today). Redknapp finally broke QPR's cherry with a home win against Fulham two weeks ago, but failed to build on that breakthrough, losing to Newcastle and West Brom in the last two matches.

'Arry 'as kept a fairly consistent XI during his reign, with his hands partly tied by injuries. Nelsen, Onouha, Park, and Julio Cesar are doubtful; Boswinga, Zamora, and Andy Johnson are definitely out.

Redknapp's side has played 4-2-3-1 in five of his six matches – the lone change to 4-1-4-1 against Wigan, ostensibly to counteract Martinez's unusual formation – and it'll probably be the case tomorrow as well. If Cesar's not available, Robert Green will start in goal. If neither Nelsen nor Onouha are fit, the back four should be Fabio, Ferdinand, Hill, and Traore. Two from Mbia, Faurlin, and Diakite have been the midfielders in all of Redknapp's matches, and the former two have been preferred in the last three. The attacking line of three will be one of two options: either Taarabt plays in the middle, flanked by Mackie and Wright-Phillips, or Granero starts as the #10 with Taarabt and one of the two aforementioned wingers; Junior Hoillett, often rumored to be a Liverpool target last season, has primarily been used as a substitute. Finally, ex-Liverpool player Djibril Cisse will start up front.

Given how much trouble Carlton Cole, Benteke, and Kenwyne Jones have caused Liverpool during the last month, maybe it's a good thing that Zamora's out injured. But Djibril CIsse presents a whole host of different concerns. He's still the same player he was at Liverpool: incredibly fast and incredibly frustrating; can score from anywhere on the pitch and will shoot from everywhere on the pitch; and will probably be flagged offside approximately 16 times per match. On his day, he's unplayable. As with all ex-Liverpool players, I worry tomorrow will be that day, but in theory, Agger's well-equipped to deal with Cisse's talents. Like Cisse, Taarabt's also capable of the deliriously brilliant and the simply delirious. If Lucas is out, Allen will have a tough task marking him. And if he plays on the flank – most likely the left flank if that's the case – Liverpool's fullback, whether Johnson or Enrique, will have to restrain his runs forward to keep an eye on him. Conversely, that fullback will also know Taarabt won't be tracking back.

In the previous two seasons, a trip to relegation-threatened QPR would be cause for concern; for the most part, Liverpool punched above their weight against the top six then proceeded to draw or lose to sides in the bottom half of the table. Like, you may remember, against this side on this ground last season, when Liverpool somehow squandered a 2-0 lead in the final 15 minutes. The opposite has been the case this season. All six of Liverpool's league wins have come against sides below them in the table, while the only defeat against a bottom-half team was two weeks ago to Aston Villa. Who – yes, yes – proceeded to concede 12 goals in their next two matches while scoring none, but bear with me anyway.

The above isn't to suggest this will be a cut-and-dry three points. We're all well aware – fans, players, manager, the world – that there are no cut-and-dry three points for Liverpool. Not this season, not anymore. Nonetheless, the expectation is there. Everyone expects a response to the Boxing Day Massacre, expects Liverpool to win, even though they've won so few matches during this season and this calendar year. If you thought the howls of condemnation were loud after Stoke, I shudder to imagine the criticism if Liverpool turn out a similarly disappointing performance tomorrow.

It's the last match of 2012, a year that began with a demoralizing 0-3 defeat and somehow saw many more nadirs. End it on a different note, please.

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