21 December 2012

Liverpool v Fulham 12.22.12

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

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Fulham (h) 05.01.12
0-1 Fulham (a) 12.05.11
5-2 Liverpool (a) 05.09.11
1-0 Liverpool (h) 01.26.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Villa (h); 3-2 West Ham (a); 1-0 Udinese (a)
Fulham: 1-2 QPR (a); 2-1 Newcastle (h); 0-3 Tottenham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 10; Gerrard 2; Agger, Cole, Enrique, Johnson, Şahin, Skrtel, Sterling 1
Fulham: Berbatov, Petric 5; Sidwell 4; Duff 3; Baird, Kacaniklic, Rodallega, Ruiz 2; Richardson 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Gerrard Henderson
Suso Suarez Shelvey

Can we have rotation? Please?

Allen and Sterling are prime candidates to begin on the bench with the fixtures piling up over the holiday season. Sure, maybe it's unlikely that Sterling will mark the first match after signing a new contract by not starting, but he and Allen – more than others – could use the rest, especially with a trip to Stoke on Boxing Day.

At least Enrique's fit, almost certain to return to his left-back berth, but Assaidi's still out with a knee problem while Şahin has just returned from surgery on his broken nose.

Henderson seems the likely replacement for Allen, playing well – mostly as a substitute – over the last month. Shelvey and Şahin are also possibilities, but I think the former should stay in the front three while the latter will most likely be on the bench at most. I'd suggest Gerrard could use a game off as well – still the only Liverpool player to feature in every minute of the Premier League – but spelling one midfielder seems the most change Liverpool would be willing to make in that section of the pitch, especially with Lucas recently returned from his long-term injury.

As for the front three: Assaidi and Borini are still out, Joe Cole is still Joe Cole – having reverted to being Joe Cole after his crucial cameo against West Ham. So if Sterling doesn't start, Liverpool's options for the flanks are Suso, Shelvey, and Downing. And that's it. A 19- and 20-year-old who prefer to play in the middle and one of Liverpool's biggest transfer flops ever. So maybe Sterling won't be rested. But if he is – and he probably should be – it'll be two from those three flanking Suarez, and I'd prefer the first two, even if it is cramming round pegs in square holes. Still, the above is more a wish, as it seems Downing's likely to feature, either instead of one of those two, or with Shelvey dropping into midfield rather than Henderson.

After beginning November in the Top 7, Fulham have struggled over the last six weeks. In the first 12 matches, Fulham won four, drew four, and lost four, scoring 25 goals (joint-second most in the league). But in the last six matches, they've won one, drawn one, and lost four, scoring just five goals, currently in 13th and behind Liverpool by two points.

Fulham could start two ex-Liverpool players on its left flank: Alex Kacaniklic – sent to Fulham in that horrific Konchesky deal – and John Arne Riise. Kacaniklic has started just once during Fulham's six-match slide, coincidentally the win against Newcastle, having injured his hamstring in the 1-3 lost to Sunderland. Riise will assuredly start at left-back.

Right-back Sascha Riether will be fit, but Bryan Ruiz, Simon Davies, and Mahamadou Diarra are long-term casualties. Steve Sidwell is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against QPR.

Jol's side almost always plays 4-4-2: either Rodellega or Petric up front with Berbatov; two from Duff, Kacaniklic, Frei, and Dejagah on the flanks; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, and Riise in defense; and Schwarzer in goal. I'm curious to see who'll replace Sidwell in midfield – that suspension along with Diarra's injury depletes Fulham at that position. Baird will be one of the two, but after that, Jol's strapped for options. Chances are that it'll be either Kieran Richardson, usually a winger or full-back, or 35-year-old free transfer Giorgos Karagounis, who's rarely featured so far this season. Riether's also played in midfield before, for his previous club (FC Köln), but hasn't done so since transferring to Fulham.

Rodgers has promised a response after last Saturday's disappointment, certain players have promised a response after last Saturday's disappointment. Even without those interviews, it's fairly obvious that Liverpool needs to respond after that set-back, facing a side which beat them 1-0 in both matches last season. There's no point in looking at the table, focusing on where Liverpool lie, for the near future. All that really matters is Liverpool returning to steady improvement, which we'd mostly seen until that massive defeat to Aston Villa.

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