19 April 2014

Liverpool at Norwich 04.20.14

7am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
5-1 Liverpool (h) 12.04.13
5-0 Liverpool (h) 01.19.13
5-2 Liverpool (a) 09.29.12
3-0 Liverpool (a) 04.28.12

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-2 City (h); 2-1 West Ham (a); 4-0 Tottenham (h)
Norwich: 0-1 Fulham (a); 0-1 West Brom (h); 0-3 Swansea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 29; Sturridge 20; Gerrard 13; Skrtel, Sterling 7; Coutinho 5; Henderson 4; Agger, Flanagan, Moses, Sakho 1
Norwich: Hooper, Snodgrass 5; Fer, Johnson 3; Howson 2; R Bennett, Elmander, Hoolahan, Pilkington, Redmond, Tettey, Whittaker, van Wolfswinkel 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Flanagan
Lucas Allen
Sterling Suarez Coutinho

Will Sturridge be available and who replaces the suspended Henderson?

How Liverpool cope with Henderson's absence partly depends on Sturridge. If he's fit, it's a simple question: either Lucas or Allen replace Henderson in something of a straight swap. And I strongly suspect it'd be Allen.

“It’s vital you have players who can come in and do a fantastic job. We’re fortunate to have both Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen. They have both shown their qualities, particularly Joe in recent weeks. When he’s had the chance to play, he has been exceptional. I said when he first came to the club that Joe is an outstanding player. As time goes on and he starts to show that, what the club paid for Joe will be a bargain. You look at other midfielders with his qualities, they are going to big clubs for £40million. Joe is perfectly suited to this way of working. I have no doubt that in years to come he will be deemed a snip at £15million.”

- Brendan Rodgers

Neither Allen nor Lucas can replicate Henderson's pressing or overall work rate, but Allen's better able to make Henderson's attacking runs forward and link play in attack, and that'll be more important against Norwich than Lucas' patience passing and defensive capabilities.

But Sturridge's absence would render that debate moot; both will probably start if he's unavailable.

There's no like-for-like replacement for Daniel Sturridge. Aspas is the closest, but he's had next to no impact on the season since the first few matches. So you seemingly change the system, going back to what worked when Sturridge was absent in December, including in the 5-1 win against tomorrow's opponents. Sterling and Coutinho flanking Suarez, three midfielders behind, with at least one if not two of those midfielders joining the attack early and often.

Liverpool could also retain the diamond formation with Sturridge missing; Raheem Sterling seems more than capable of playing up front with Suarez, his pace suited to taking him behind Norwich's defenders, his runs pulling those defenders out of position to create space for Suarez. Coutinho at the apex of the diamond – chances are, he'll cut inside often in the 4-3-3 anyway – with Allen and Lucas the wide midfielders, and Gerrard at the base.

There is one other option: using Coutinho rather than Lucas in midfield if Liverpool play 4-3-3, and starting Moses in the front three. It's what The Guardian guessed in its match preview. But it's also frighteningly similar to the lineup Liverpool used in the 1-3 loss at Hull. So yeah, maybe not.

Regardless of formation, Luis Suarez will be crucial, the butcher of East Anglia in his last four matches against Norwich. 11 goals in those four matches; two hat-tricks in the two matches he's played at Carrow Road. That Suarez could keep up this one-man crusade against the Canaries seems unlikely, if not impossible. His shooting accuracy in those four matches was 64%. Six of those 11 goals came outside the box, including three unfathomably spectacular strikes. One of those days he'll regress to the mean. He has to. But I hope it won't be tomorrow.

Norwich are not in a good place right now. They've lost their last three, lost seven of the 11 since February 1. From 12th place on January 31 to 17th today, outside of the relegation zone by just two points, and with their last four games against Liverpool, United, Chelsea, and Arsenal.

Last Saturday was supposed to be the bulwark. Last Saturday was the reason Norwich fired Hughton, hoping to catalyze the side going into the six-pointer against woeful Fulham. It did not work as expected, losing 0-1, to give Fulham a slight ray of hope, and to drag Norwich further down into the morass.

Norwich played something of a diamond formation in that loss to Fulham, with Redmond and van Wolfswinkel as the strikers. It did not work especially well, as Norwich continued to Norwich despite the change in formation and manager. The away side started the better side and had some golden chances, but were denied by a combination of poor finishing, bad luck, and excellent goalkeeping. That inability to score has been the story of the season. No side has fewer league goals than Norwich; Suarez has three more than Norwich by himself. Then they conceded against the run of play late in the first half, and subsequently never looked as threatening as they did before Fulham struck.

So I've little idea how Norwich will line up tomorrow. I suspect it'll be similar to last Saturday, with Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin, Bassong, Olsson; Johnson, Howson; Snodgrass, Fer, Redmond; Van Wolfswinkel, in either the 4-4-2 diamond or the more familiar 4-3-2-1 that Hughton usually used. But maybe Hooper or Elmander or both start instead, in the hopes of finding goals from somewhere. Maybe Hoolahan or Murphy start in midfield, in the hopes of adding more creativity. Adams has next to no track record, and it's not as if any of Norwich's players (especially in the front six) have nailed down a starting spot.

As against Sunderland, it's the archetypal trap game. Liverpool on a ten-match win streak away to a truly struggling side. Liverpool, missing two key players. Norwich, fighting for Premiership survival. It'd be too easy to look past tomorrow's match, to next week's supposedly season-deciding fixture against Chelsea. Thankfully, this is a side that rarely looked like falling into those traps.

And it's a side that still has Luis Suarez, the killer of Canaries and curse of Carrow Road.

So we go again.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

We go again.

The prize today is 5 points clear at the top of the table.

That will do nicely.

For now.

Bring on the Canaries.