05 January 2013

Liverpool at Mansfield Town 01.06.13

11am ET, live in the US on FSC

Previous Meetings:
3-2 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 09.22.70
0-0 (a; League Cup) 09.08.70

Previous Rounds:
Liverpool: n/a
Mansfield Town: 2-1 Lincoln City (h); 3-3 Lincoln City (a); 1-1 Slough [4-1 pens] (a); 0-0 Slough (h); 2-1 Workington (a)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Sunderland (h); 3-0 QPR (a); 1-3 Stoke (a)
Mansfield Town: 3-0 Alfreton Town (a); 1-2 Alfreton Town (h); 2-1 Lincoln City (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Suarez 18; Gerrard, Shelvey 5; Downing, Şahin 3; Agger, Cole, Johnson, Skrtel, Sterling 2; Borini, Coates, Enrique, Henderson, Wisdom 1
Mansfield Town: Green 8; Speight 6; Briscoe, Rhead 4; Hutchinson, Jones, Meikle 3; Daniel, Dempster, Geohaghon 2; Beevers, Howell, Murray, Stevenson, Wright 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Wisdom Skrtel Carragher Robinson
Allen Şahin
Suso Sturridge Downing

The third round of the FA Cup, just four days after Liverpool played five matches in two and a half weeks, means Rodgers seemingly has to rest some players, as said in yesterday's press conference. Given that the next league fixture, against some side called Manchester United, is a full week after tomorrow's match, I don't know if Rodgers will rest as many as most assume.

Unsurprisingly, most of the focus has been on whether Liverpool's new striker will start. Last featuring against West Brom in the middle of November and having dealt with a couple of lingering minor injuries since the start of the season, Sturridge probably is some ways from match fitness. Sanity suggests he'll most likely be on the bench at best. Still. It's like opening a Christmas present then being told you can't play with it until the New Year. Come on Brendan, give us a look.

If not Sturridge, then it'll probably have to be Suarez. "Suarez" and "rest" aren't usually words used in the same sentence; the club can rarely afford to leave him out, the player seemingly hates to be rested (and plays better when he isn't). If not Suarez and not Sturridge, Liverpool are more likely to start their jack-of-all-trades Jonjo Shelvey rather than 18-year-old Samed Yesil.

Or Shelvey could play wide in the front three; it's happened before, and Liverpool remain unusually shallow in these spots. Sterling's another who could use a rest, even though he started only two of three games since Christmas and was taken off in the 57th minute against Sunderland; he's still made more appearances than any other in the squad. Downing's started the last seven matches – only one of four players to do so, along with Reina, Johnson, and Skrtel. Assaidi joins up with Morocco for the African Cup of Nations in three days; I can't see him playing if he won't be with the club for the subsequent month. Joe Cole's now a West Ham player, Adam Morgan's on loan with Rotherham. Just by process of elimination, Suso seems a likely starter, with either Sterling or Downing on the opposite flank. Unless Sturridge does start, and we get a sneak preview of the threatened "Danny in the middle, Luis on the flank" formation that Rodgers has threatened.

Or Shelvey could play in midfield, which is where he usually appears. Gerrard has to has to has to has to be left on the bench, if he travels at all. He's already equalled last season's appearance total, already played more Premier League minutes than last season (and is the only Liverpool player to play every Premier League minute), only missing five matches all season: four in the Europa League and the first League Cup tie. Lucas, still recovering form and fitness after his extended injury, should also miss out. Which leaves three spots for four, maybe five players: Shelvey, Henderson, Allen, Şahin, and possibly Coady. If Shelvey plays in midfield, it'll almost certainly be as the most attacking player; if Coady plays it'll be as the deepest holding player. Otherwise, your guess for both personnel and organization is as good as mine. Personally, I'd like some proof that Nuri Şahin is both alive and not locked in the Anfield boiler room.

The center-backs *should* be Coates and Carragher, but the never-ending rumors about Coates going on loan means that I'm skeptical. Look, I don't understand Coates' exclusion either; that Rodgers started him against Manchester City with Agger suspended seemed something of a turned corner. Since then, he's struggled to even get Europa League matches, let alone Premier League matches. Carragher has been much better in his few appearances this season compared to the last, and it's impossible to begrudge him the late midfield appearances he's racked up recently, but Coates has seemed a prodigious talent since arriving last summer, despite an expected few mistakes.

Otherwise, Liverpool will play its back-up defenders. Skrtel is a cyborg, so he doesn't count, but Johnson could use a match on the bench, with Wisdom keeping the place he reclaimed against Sunderland. Reina, finally appearing back in form, may keep his place as well, but a cup match seems a reasonable reward for Brad Jones, especially after recently signing a contract extension. I'm most concerned about Jack Robinson. I've precedent for being irrational about left-backs' potential (see: Insua, Emiliano), but I'm more baffled about his lack of appearances than I am Coates'.

Knowing very little about Mansfield Town, I reckon it's safe to assume Sunday's XI will look a lot like those in the last round of the FA Cup, matches which Mansfield Town took very seriously. Which, incidentally, are the only Mansfield Town matches I've ever seen (sorry!). The Stags played 4-4-1-1 in both legs against Lincoln City. In the last, which Mansfield won with a late goal from Louis Briscoe, Marriott, despite being injured, did well in goal; with Thompson, Demspter, Geohaghon, and Beevers in defense; Briscoe, Howell, Clements, and Meikle in midfield; and Green and Hutchinson up front. Matt Green and right winger Briscoe were the attacking standouts, while Rhead, used as a substitute, was an absolute handful after coming on. Jake Speight could come in for Hutchinson up front, Sutton for Thompson at right back, and Murray for either Clements or Howell in midfield. More outlets have written about Mansfield's CEO than Mansfield's players and playing style in the run-up to this fixture.

If you're a unrepentant nerd with a memory for names (*waves*), you may remember Exodus Geohaghon from when Kettering Town played Fulham in the fourth round of the 2009 FA Cup, televised both in the States and the UK. He's a basically a non-league Stoke defender: an enormous lad with a huge long throw. Mansfield love their long throws, so fair warning, Liverpool.

The last time Liverpool faced non-league opposition in the FA Cup, the Reds had to twice come back from a goal deficit at Anfield. That match saw Lucas' first goal for the club and Benayoun's second hat-trick of the season, but Liverpool were made to work for it. Like Havant and Waterlooville, it's doubt that Mansfield Town will just be happy to be there, smiling and then moving aside so Liverpool can waltz toward goal and victory. A claustrophobic, rutted, rugby-style pitch can only help the home side. And not to sound patronizing, but this will be the biggest game of Mansfield Town's season, maybe of some of the players' careers. Liverpool will have to do more than show up to prevent a memorable giant-killing that could utterly destroy any momentum built up over the festive season.

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