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Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 10.20.12
1-2 Reading aet (h; FA Cup) 01.13.10
1-1 (a; FA Cup) 01.02.10
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.15.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 West Ham (h); 2-1 Villa (a); 1-3 Southampton (a)
Reading: 0-2 Southampton (a); 1-4 Arsenal (a); 0-1 United (a)
Liverpool: Suarez 22; Gerrard 9; Sturridge 4; Downing, Henderson 3; Agger, Coutinho, Enrique, Skrtel, Sterling 2; Cole, Johnson, Şahin 1
Reading: le Fondre 10; Kebe, Pogrebnyak, Robson-Kanu 5; Hunt, Morrison 2; Gorkss, Guthrie, Leigertwood, Mariappa, McCleary 1
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Downing Suarez Coutinho
Reading, currently propping up the table, will have to come out at play. There will be no Spartan last stand, with James Collins et al tackling everything in sight on the edge of his box. Reading are at home, and probably need to win all of their remaining games to have a chance at staying in the Premier League.
Liverpool's previous match against Reading and Liverpool's last match against a Nigel Adkins-managed side were both narrow 1-0 wins, both at Anfield. But both of those matches took place in the first half of the season (the reverse fixture, the eighth of the league campaign, saw Liverpool's first win at Anfield), before the arrival of Sturridge and Coutinho, before Liverpool's attack coalesced in an almost-capable, if sometimes still misfiring machine.
Rodgers spoke about how Sturridge hasn't been fully fit in the last two matches, left on the bench at Villa and on as a substitute for the ill Downing against West Ham. However, I've a sneaking suspicion that he may start tomorrow. Even though Liverpool are away from home, which was a recipe for disaster when this front four started against Southampton, Liverpool will want to attack tomorrow's opponent at pace, with quick transitions from back to front, hoping to get that early goal which has seen the side coast past a handful of similar opponents. Reading needing all three points rather than a resilient one plays into this strategy.
But as usual, it appears it's one of two options. Either the above, or with Henderson in place of Sturridge. Downing has recovered from illness (and despite his flaws, seems fairly necessary for Liverpool's balance on the flanks), Coutinho has been one of Liverpool's bright spots of late, Lucas and Gerrard will assuredly start in midfield, and the back four has been Johnson, Carragher, Agger, and Enrique in seven of the last eight league matches.
Meanwhile, Reading have lost eight consecutive matches, seven in the league and one in the FA Cup, a streak dating back to February 3. Nigel Adkins' two matches in charge have seen a 1-4 loss at Arsenal and 0-2 loss at Southampton. Adkins has used some variation of 4-5-1 in both matches, more a 4-1-4-1 with Pogrebnyak up front at Arsenal, but a 4-2-3-1 with le Fondre as the lone striker at Southampton.
Like Liverpool's last opponent, Reading are fairly reliant on crossing; only West Ham averages more per game in the league. They aren't as reliant on hopeful punts upfield, but Reading will attack directly, usually via width, putting pressure on Liverpool's fullbacks and wingers, demanding that Agger and Carragher remain capable in the air. There are six Premier League teams who average more than 25 crosses per game: West Ham, Reading, Newcastle, Everton, Arsenal, and United. Liverpool have won just two of the nine matches they've played against those six teams: the reverse fixture against Reading and December's match at West Ham.
Jimmy Kebe, one of those Reading wide players, is doubtful with a groin injury, as is former Everton academy graduate Hope Akpan. I suspect Adkins' XI will look more like the one against Arsenal than Southampton – although maybe that's just my misplaced hope that Liverpool are closer to Arsenal than Southampton – with three central midfielders sitting deeper rather than the slightly more attacking trio of Guthrie-Karacan-Akpan which started last weekend.
However, I do think Le Fondre will start, having scored twice as many goals as Pogrebnyak, but I expect Guthrie to sit deeper than he did against Southampton, partnered with Karacan and Leigertwood in midfield, with Robson-Kanu and McAnuff on the flanks, a back four of Gunter, Morrison, Mariappa, and Kelly, and Federici in goal.
The question, as has also become usual, is "which Liverpool will we get?" Will we get the Liverpool who comprehensively demolished similar opponents over the last four months? Or the Liverpool which broke down in the final third time and time again when facing West Ham and West Brom? Or the Liverpool which conceded an early goal against Villa (at home), Stoke, and Southampton and rarely looked like getting back into the game?
Consistency remains this side's biggest concern. Which isn't a new development. We've seen Liverpool become more resilient and resistant, inch by inch, whether in comebacks against Tottenham and Villa or in not stupidly conceding to West Ham after an inability to make the breakthrough. We've seen evidence that there's a good side taking shape, and that there's clear potential to build on over the last six games.
But we've admittedly not seen it often enough.