03 December 2013

Liverpool v Norwich 12.04.13

2:45pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
5-0 Liverpool (h) 01.19.14
5-2 Liverpool (a) 09.29.12
3-0 Liverpool (a) 04.28.12
1-1 (h) 10.22.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Hull (a); 3-3 Everton (a); 4-0 Fulham (h)
Norwich: 1-0 Palace (h); 1-2 Newcastle (a); 3-1 West Ham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Sturridge, Suarez 9; Gerrard 3; Coutinho, Moses, Skrtel 1
Norwich: Fer, Hooper, Howson 2; Pilkington, Redmond, Snodgrass, Whittaker, van Wolfswinkel 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Sakho Agger Cissokho
Henderson Gerrard Lucas Coutinho
Aspas Suarez

Is that terrible taste from Sunday still stuck in your mouth, and you can't get rid of it no matter how many times you gargle? Yeah, me too. And I hope it's still stuck in the Liverpool players' mouths as well.

Norwich are seemingly the best possible opponents to remove that terrible taste. Liverpool have beaten Norwich by a combined 13-2 in the last three meetings and Suarez has especially delighted in sinking his teeth into the Canaries, tallying seven goals – including two hat-tricks at Carrow Road – as well as an assist.

There will clearly be a fair bit of rotation – much needed rotation – from Sunday's line-up, and Rodgers has more than a few choices how to set up his side.

Personally, I'd like to see Aspas – if fit enough to start after being left on the bench at Hull – used as something of a direct replacement for Sturridge. The same 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 formation with Henderson and Coutinho ostensibly on the flanks, Aspas and Suarez buzzing dangerously across the width and breadth of the final third, pulling center backs out of position for each other and the two players cutting in from the flanks. Preseason is often a poor barometer, but Aspas looked more capable as an out-and-out striker than he did playing as a deeper #10 when fit early in the season.

Admittedly, even at best, that doesn't fix Liverpool's midfield or defense, which – discounting the abomination at Hull – have been the bigger issues. This might well be a match to rest Lucas or Gerrard, to see what Liverpool's midfield looks like with one of those players missing, as the longer the season goes on, the less likely it seems they'll eventually began complementing each other's game.

And I'd finally like to see both Sakho and Agger starting, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Lies, damned lies, and statistics, but Liverpool's conceded six goals in the last two matches, and Skrtel's the only center-back who started both. Agger was a part of of one of those, at Everton, but he's also started in all four of Liverpool's clean sheets this season; his other two starts came at Everton and in the narrow 0-1 loss to Southampton. Sakho's done little wrong as well. Norwich will pose threats, to be sure, and this won't be as easy as the last meeting between these two sides at Anfield, but this seems as good a match as any to try a Sakho-Agger pairing. Flanagan may also be rested in order to give Cissokho another chance, ostensibly providing more attacking threat from full-back, but starting Toure at right-back with Johnson on the left also seems an option.

However, I wouldn't be surprised to see something different than the above guess. Whether it's either Moses or Sterling retaining a place on the flank – surely it won't be both – or both Henderson/Allen and Gerrard ahead of Lucas, inverting the midfield triangle at the expense of a #10, or reverting to a back three in an attempt to stop the goals from flying in and feel more comfortable using Sakho and Agger at the same time. It's not as if Rodgers is lacking for options. Even if we're a long way from being convinced by some of those options.

Norwich have rebounded from being hammered by Arsenal, United, and City in the space of two weeks at the end of October/beginning of November, beating Palace and West Ham while narrowly losing at Newcastle over the last month.

Hull gave other sides the template for beating Liverpool, although it's not as if Steve Bruce's side exposed any new deficiencies. Set plays and counter-attacks, set plays and counter-attacks. In Hooper, Redmond, and Hoolahan, Norwich have three dangerous attackers capable of punishing any side on the break. Redmond's pace and talent with the ball at his feet frightens the most. Thankfully, their supremely talented set-play taker, Robert Snodgrass, will miss out through injury, but Liverpool have managed to concede set-play goals to far less talented takers and teams.

With Pilkington, Tettey, and van Wolfswinkel also absent through injury, Norwich's most likely XI is the same which beat Palace on Saturday: Ruddy; Martin, Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Howson, Fer; Hoolalan, Elmander, Redmond; Hooper. Bradley Johnson may come in for Elmander, shifting Fer further forward for more heft in midfield, but that seems the only probable change.

Three of Norwich's four wins have been narrow 1-0 victories, and they've also drawn more than half of the fixtures played so far this season. That feeds into the aforementioned template for nullifying Liverpool. Keep it tight, prevent an early goal, frustrate the home side, and hope to nick one against the run of play. Take a first half lead, as Hull did, as Newcastle did, as Swansea did, and you're almost assured of at least of point.

Liverpool, with Sunday still fresh in the memory, need to remind they can comprehensively beat these sides as they did so thoroughly last season, need to demonstrate that improving resilience Rodgers has often mentioned, and need to prove that Sunday truly was a fluke occurrence.

As has become depressingly usual, I won't be able to see this game live. Well, maybe live if I can sneak watching it on my phone, but not live enough for the usual match review. I might be tempted into writing a review late Wednesday night, but chances are that I'll combine the match review and match infographic into one big Thursday post.

1 comment :

Mike Georger said...

I'm going to posit that if Kelly doesn't play at all tomorrow he never plays for us again.