30 September 2014

Liverpool at Basel 10.01.14

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Everton (h); 2-2 Boro [14-13 pens] (h); 1-3 West Ham (a)
Basel: 1-1 Thun (h); 3-1 Vaduz (h); 4-0 Winterthur (a)

Previous CL matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Ludogorets (h)
Basel: 1-5 Real Madrid (a)

Goalscorers (CL):
Liverpool: Balotelli, Gerrard 1
Basel: Gonzalez 1

Referee: Jonas Eriksson (SWE)

Guess at a line-up:
Manquillo Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Gerrard Henderson
Lallana Coutinho Sterling

Once again, it's still too soon for Daniel Sturridge, who didn't travel with the team to Switzerland. And neither did Mamadou Sakho, currently being punished for walking out on the club after being left out of the squad over the weekend.

Which means that tomorrow's XI is going to look an awful lot like the one we saw on Saturday. I suspect we'll see Coutinho or Borini in place of Markovic, who was suspended for the last match against Ludogorets, as the young winger's disappointed in his last two appearances. He'd probably benefit from being used as a substitute, where his speed can have more effect, especially if Liverpool are ahead in the match.

Liverpool could play a diamond, with Gerrard at the base; two from Henderson, Lucas, and Coutinho as the shuttlers; Lallana, Sterling, or Coutinho at the apex; and Balotelli and Borini or Lambert up front. Which doesn't seem ideal – even though Liverpool need help up front, the diamond doesn't ever seem ideal without Allen or Can opposite Henderson – it could work against Basel's likely 3-4-2-1 formation, giving Liverpool added strength in the middle of the pitch and an extra body up front so Balotelli isn't isolated against all those center-backs.

But for the most part, the XI writes itself. Unlike in the League Cup, we won't see many, if any, usual starters rested. Even if some players (*cough* Gerrard *cough*) clearly benefited from the lack of a midweek fixture. This match will go a long way in deciding the group – Liverpool and Basel are seemingly playing for second place – and it's not as if Liverpool are spoilt for choice, mainly thanks to lingering injuries.

As with Ludogorets, I won't pretend to know much about Basel's set-up or tactics. I know that they walk the Swiss Super League almost every season – league winners in the last five seasons, two points clear at the top after 10 games this season – and that they usually sell one or two key players every season, and then rebuild. See: Shaqiri, Xhaka, Salah, etc.

They're now managed by Paulo Sousa, who you may remember from QPR, Swansea, or Leicester. Sousa was Swansea's manager prior to Brendan Rodgers, leaving for a bigger salary at Leicester, where he lasted all of 86 days, while Rodgers got Swansea promoted to the Premier League in his first season.

Basel's usual system so far this season is 3-4-2-1, and the XI which lost 1-5 to Real Madrid was Vaclik; Schär, Samuel, Suchy; T Xhaka, El Nenny, Frei, Safari; Gonzalez, Zuffi; Streller. Fabian Schär is seemingly the next player to depart for a bigger club/league/paycheck, while Samuel and Streller are cagey veterans, and Fabian Frei is Basel's cornerstone central midfielder. Serey Die is another option as a defensive midfielder, Matias Delgado as an attacking midfielder. The legendary Philipp Degen still plays for Basel, but will surprisingly miss out due to injury, as will center-back Ivan Ivanov, the reigning Bulgarian Footballer of the Year.

Basel have been difficult European opponents in the last few seasons, making the round of 16 in the Champions League in 2011-12, reaching the Europa League semifinals in 2012-13 (where they lost to Chelsea), and beating Chelsea twice in the Champions League group stage last season, ultimately ending up in the Europa League where they made the last eight.

Unlike Liverpool, they have experience in European competition, no matter the turnover Basel's squad goes through every season. Liverpool certainly can't take them lightly, but Liverpool's form of late has meant they can't take anyone lightly.

No matter the result, Liverpool were a better side on Saturday, delivering one of the stronger performances of the season despite the continuing struggles in front of goal. Not that that's saying much. Sousa's preferred tactics and the fact that Liverpool are away from home should mean that the team has more space to operate, to counter-attack, compared to almost every other fixture so far this season. It's always dangerous to have hope, but if Liverpool can build on Saturday's performance, tomorrow's match could well be a much-needed turning point.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

We need a turning point.


At least Brendan told Roy there'll be no Sturridge for the next two England matches. He's not fit!?! Rooney can play, though, missing the next 3 league fixtures, after kicking poor Stewie like a mule. Roy can put him up top.