21 March 2014

Liverpool at Cardiff 03.22.14

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-1 Liverpool (h) 12.21.13
2-2 [3-2 on penalties] Liverpool (n; League Cup) 02.26.12
2-1 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.31.07
0-4 Cardiff (h) 12.19.59

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 United (a); 3-0 Southampton (a); 4-3 Swansea (h)
Cardiff: 1-2 Everton (a); 3-1 Fulham (h); 0-1 Tottenham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 24; Sturridge 18; Gerrard 10; Sterling 7; Skrtel 4; Coutinho, Henderson 3; Agger, Flanagan, Moses, Sakho 1
Cardiff: Campbell 5; Caulker, Mutch 4; Whittingham 2; Bellamy, Kim, Cala, Gunnarsson, Jones, Noone, Odemwingie 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Liverpool have lost all three Premier League matches that Neil Swarbrick has refereed.

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Flanagan
Henderson Allen
Sturridge Suarez

Will Rodgers stick with the 4-4-2 diamond after consecutive 3-0 away victories, or revert to a 4-3-3 formation?

If it's the diamond – which seems slightly more likely, solely because Rodgers is often hesitant to change a winning formula – then the only lineup question seems Sterling or Coutinho. That Liverpool will most likely monopolize the ball, pinning Cardiff deep and needing to cut through a packed defense, makes me think Coutinho is more likely, with Sterling's pace available off the bench if needed when legs begin to tired. More the thought process against Southampton rather than the thought process against Manchester United.

If it's 4-3-3, then the question is over the third midfielder. The front three would be some blend of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling. Henderson and Gerrard appear certain starters regardless of formation. So the choice would be Coutinho or Allen, and as in the 4-4-2 diamond, I expect Coutinho would get the nod for his throughballs and general creativity. Although it is worth noting that's the exact front six which struggled so mightily at West Brom, the last time Liverpool failed to win a league match. And also the same front six which scored five against Arsenal. So, yeah.

I still don't expect either Lucas or Sakho to come back into the side just yet. Not with the midfield and defense playing the way that they have. Liverpool have three games in the next 10 days. We'll most likely see both of them start at least one of those matches, but I doubt it'll be tomorrow with the way the team's worked of late. No one changes a defense that's kept successive clean sheets away from home unless they have to.

According to most models, Cardiff have an 80-90% chance of being relegated, even though they're just three points and goal difference from safety. They've won only one of their last seven matches, at home against 20th-placed Fulham two weeks ago. Which, of course – given my propensity for pessimism – makes me think this is more of a Hull City/West Brom-style trap game than a nailed-on hammering.

Cardiff have used five at the back in two of the last three matches: at Tottenham and Everton, although Solskjaer switched to the more familiar 4-1-4-1 after 20 or so minutes against Everton. And it's understandable why. Try like hell to prevent an opposition goal, hope to nick one or two against better opposition on either a counter-attack or set play. More defenders maybe, hopefully, mean better defending, etc etc. Cardiff have allowed more shots on target than any other side this season, a large reason why they're currently in the relegation zone, despite the frequent heroics of David Marshall.

If it's 4-1-4-1, the XI will most likely be Marshall; Theophile-Caterine, Caulker, Cala, John; Medel; Noone, Kim, Whittingham, Mutch; Campbell. If it's five at the back, Fabio probably comes in for Noone, with Theophile-Caterine at center-back and Mutch playing centrally off Campbell. Ben Turner will be subject to a late fitness test, and could replace Juan Cala in the 4-1-4-1 or Theophile-Caterine in the 5-3-2 if available.

Marshall has been Cardiff's best player; without their keeper, Cardiff would have even fewer points. No keeper has made more saves this season, but, again, no keeper has faced more shots on target either. Craig Noone always gets a bit of press prior to Liverpool matches, born on Merseyside, and you may have heard that he once worked on Gerrard's roof. You'll probably hear it six or seven more times tomorrow. And then there's Craig Bellamy. If he plays, he'll provoke the usual ex-Liverpool player fear, but he's more likely to appear off the bench.

Thanks to a scheduling quirk, this will be Liverpool's third successive away match. They've ostensibly done the hard part by beating Southampton and United, but the cliche holds true. There are no easy matches, not at this stage of the season. You can point to Liverpool's away failings earlier in the campaign, or the recent Chelsea v Aston Villa example. Thankfully, Liverpool – at least from their public quotes, not to mention their form since the New Year – seem well aware of just how crucial every game is. Nine more cup finals…

No comments :