22 September 2014

Liverpool v Middlesbrough 09.23.14

2:45pm ET, not live on TV in the US. Delayed on BeIN Sport at 4pm ET.

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Boro (a) 02.28.09
2-1 Liverpool (h) 8.23.08
3-2 Liverpool (h) 02.23.08
1-1 (a) 01.12.08

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 West Ham (a); 2-1 Ludogorets (h); 0-1 Villa (h)
Middlesbrough: 4-0 Brentford (h); 1-0 Cardiff (a); 2-1 Huddersfield (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: n/a
Middlesbrough: 3-1 Preston (h); 3-0 Oldham (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Sterling 3; Gerrard 2; Balotelli, Moreno, Sturridge 1
Middlesbrough: Leadbitter 7; Kike 5; Tomlin 2; Adomah, Ayala, Bamford, Williams 1

Referee: Mike Jones

Guess at a line-up:
Manquillo Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Lucas Rossiter
Markovic Lambert Borini

I have but one request. Do not play Gerrard.

That's easier said that done with news that both Henderson and Coutinho have minor injuries and are unlikely to play tomorrow, in addition to the already missing Allen and Can. But it still has to happen, even if it means a midfield comprising of three from Lucas, Lallana, Rossiter, and Suso.

Otherwise, whatever. The packed fixture list means Liverpool have to work around absentees and rest others. The result is fairly low down the list of priorities, no matter the current dearth of confidence or the match taking place at Anfield.

It's a chance for Lambert, Lallana, and Markovic to become better acclimatized to the side. I wouldn't have minded seeing Balotelli in place of Lambert – he needs minutes with his new teammates too – but Rodgers has confirmed Lambert will start, and considering the players injured and who need resting, I doubt Liverpool will go with the diamond.

Lallana in midfield would mean that either Sterling or Borini has to start in the front three (Balotelli's seemingly less likely than either). It'll probably be Borini, and rightfully so considering Liverpool's priorities and Sterling's age, but Sterling has been Liverpool main and frequently only attacking threat.

It's a chance for the defense to maybe think about removing their heads from their rear ends for a change, which is why I've guessed no changes in that area. But Sakho and/or Toure could come in, Jones might well start because it's a cup game, Enrique might actually make an appearance to rest Liverpool's first-choice left-back.

In the last two seasons, Rodgers' line-ups were stronger than expected in the two matches in this competition. But that seems less likely this season. Liverpool are back in the Champions League, and Liverpool have a much more important match early Saturday to worry about. Resting players who need resting seems both alpha and omega.

But make no mistake. This won't be easy, regardless of who starts. Middlesbrough are a decent side, fifth in the Championship, winning five and losing three so far this season, full of confidence after dominating Brentford in their last outing.

Aitor Karanka, who used to be Mourinho's assistant manager at Real Madrid, usually plays 4-2-3-1, but signing both Jelle Vosson and Kike (yes, I know what it looks like, but it's pronounced KEY-que) this summer gives him options. Vossen has started the last two matches up front: as a lone striker against Brentford, partnered with Kike against Cardiff. Patrick Bamford, on loan from Chelsea, is also dangerous, whether deployed out wide or in the hole, predominantly used as a substitute so far this season. Captain Grant Leadbitter, formerly of Sunderland and Ipswich, is top scorer, but top scorer like Gerrard was third-top scorer for Liverpool last season, with only one of seven goals from open play. His usual midfield partner, Dean Whitehead, is suspended, likely replaced by Adam Clayton. You may also recognize one of Boro's central defenders, Daniel Ayala, who will return from suspension.

Remember, it's the League Cup. Of course, I'd like to see some improvement in Liverpool's cohesion, performances, tactics, but the result is pretty much incidental. Liverpool have enough games this season already. Just be better than the dross we've seen in the last two league matches.

That's not asking too much, is it?

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