26 January 2013

Liverpool at Oldham 01.27.13

11am ET, live in the US on FSC

Previous Meetings:
5-1 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 01.06.12
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.15.94
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.16.93
2-3 Oldham (a) 05.05.93

Previous Rounds:
Liverpool: 2-1 Mansfield Town (a)
Oldham: 3-2 Nottingham Forest (a); 3-1 Doncaster (h); 2-0 Kidderminster (a)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-0 Norwich (h); 1-2 United (a); 2-1 Mansfield (a)
Oldham: 0-1 Notts County (a); 1-2 Coventry (a); 0-2 Brentford (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Suarez 20; Gerrard 6; Shelvey 5; Downing, Şahin, Sturridge 3; Agger, Cole, Henderson, Johnson, Skrtel, Sterling 2; Borini, Coates, Enrique, Wisdom 1
Oldham: Baxter 11; Derbyshire 6; Smith 4; Simpson 3; M'Changama, Montano, Mvoto 2; Byrne, Furman, Grounds, Slew, Tarkowski, Taylor, Wabara 1

Referee: Lee Probert

Guess at a line-up:
Wisdom Skrtel Coates Robinson
Henderson Allen
Sterling Sturridge Borini

Remember Oldham from last season in the FA Cup? Shelvey and Downing each scored their first goal for the club in a 5-1 win? Good. The opposition may be the same, the manager may be the same, but Oldham will probably field three, maybe four, of the players who featured in last year's cup tie. Such is life in the lower leagues.

To be fair, Liverpool's XI will be quite different as well; five of last season's starters aren't even with the club anymore. But Liverpool's XI should look a lot like that which faced Mansfield in the last round: similar to those usually used in the Europa League, mostly the second-string with a handful of senior players. Rodgers is promising a strong squad, but Liverpool have a balance to strike. The club have had a week off, meaning everyone should be fully rested, but will travel to Arsenal on Wednesday. Two days off between Oldham and Arsenal is a short rest, but 10 days off can lead to rust.

Sturridge not only has the chance to be the first Liverpool player to score in his first four matches, but still needs match fitness. Like against Mansfield, playing him for 45-60 minutes, to be replaced by Suarez, seems the best option. Borini, also returning to fitness and used as a sub in the last two matches, is another likely to start. With Sturridge's addition, Borini's return, and Downing's improvement, Sterling has found pitch time more limited; these are the sort of matches he'd have been limited to starting if Liverpool had a full complement of players going into the season.

Like Sterling, Allen and Shelvey have also played fewer minutes over the last few weeks, and are almost certainly in line for starts here. Whether the third midfielder is Henderson, Lucas, Suso, or even Coady is a tougher guess. It can't, won't, shouldn't be Gerrard. Lucas is slowly returning to his best, but still not quite there yet, and desperately needed against Arsenal. Shelvey seems more likely than Suso to play in the attacking midfielder role. Coady's an option if Shelvey plays further forward, but Henderson's work rate and physical capabilities should mean he's able to play both Sunday and against Arsenal if need be.

As in the last round, Wisdom and Robinson almost have to be the fullbacks. Enrique, Kelly, and Flanagan remain injured; Johnson's evidently picked up a knock as well. Fullbacks are cursed at this club. Rather than Wisdom, tomorrow could be a chance for under-21 fullback Ryan McLaughlin to debut for the club, which would be exciting; he's been incredible going forward in the few reserve matches I've seen. This is the sort of match that Coates should be starting, at the very least, now that it looks as if he won't be loaned out. Whether he partners Skrtel or Carragher will be a big clue as to which will start against Arsenal; chances are on will start tomorrow, the other on Wednesday. Either way, it's two center backs from Coates, Carragher, and Skrtel, given that Agger's often been left out of cup competition. And rightfully so.

Oldham are currently 19th in League One, having lost seven of their last eight matches. The Latics' last league win came on December 8. Since then, seven losses, one draw, and the 3rd round FA Cup win at Nottingham Forest. But while League One has been a struggle, Oldham have exceeded expectations in this competition. Donchester are joint-leaders of League One; they beat Oldham home and away in the league, but lost 3-1 in the 2nd round. Nottingham Forest are mid-table in the Championship, just five points outside of the playoff places; Oldham won 3-2 on their ground.

Names you should recognize: Dean Bouzanis, Jose Baxter. Bouzanis is a Liverpool academy graduate, released by the club in May 2011, and has taken the starting goalkeeper job from Alex Cisak. Baxter was supposed to be the next big thing out of Everton's academy, Everton's youngest ever senior player. Then he was arrested for possession of marijuana and counterfeit money in 2009 (he was never charged), and his Everton career stuttered. Then he was loaned to Tranmere and subsequently left Everton as a free agent. After failing a trial with Crystal Palace, he signed for Oldham at the start of the season. Still only 20, he's now their top scorer, by some distance, with manager Paul Dickov calling him "one of the top talents outside the Premier League." And it's pretty safe to assume an ex-Evertonian (and professed Liverpool fan) will be pretty excited about this cup tie.

Names you may recognize: Robbie Simpson, Jean-Yves M'voto, James Wesolowski. Those are the three Oldham players who started in last year's meeting most likely to start on Sunday; Matt Smith, who came off the bench last year, also plays far more often this season, and is Oldham's second top scorer following Matt Derbyshire's return to Nottingham Forest (and then loan to Blackpool). Simpson scored Oldham's lone goal in the previous meeting, the first of the match, an excellent blast from outside the box with Carragher and Coates backing off. M'voto is a burly center back, formerly of PSG (from the same reserve side as David Ngog) and Sunderland, although he never appeared in either club's first team. Wesolowski, a central midfielder and Oldham's captain with Dean Furman at the African Cup of Nations, would probably be an Australian international by now if not for constantly recurring injuries.

As it was for Mansfield, this will be the biggest match of Oldham's season, televised against a Premier League side. Liverpool will be under all the pressure; Oldham can play without fear, on their own ground in front of their own fans, knowing that a loss is all but expected. Liverpool struggled with that weight at times in the last round, pinned back by Mansfield in the final 15 minutes and conceding a goal which racked nerves until the final whistle.

Boundary Park will be a less than enjoyable place to play, packed to the rafters. Well, three rafters; the main stand was demolished in 2008, but hasn't been redeveloped, caught in the middle of a controversy whether to renovate Boundary Park or build a new stadium (sound familiar?). Chances are it'll get mighty cold and windy once the sun sets around half-time.

Can Liverpool handle the pressure? Can Liverpool focus on tomorrow's match without looking past to Arsenal on Wednesday?

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