24 October 2014

Liverpool v Hull 10.25.14

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 01.01.14
1-3 Hull (a) 12.01.13
0-0 (a) 05.09.10
6-1 Liverpool (h) 09.26.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-3 Real Madrid (h); 3-2 QPR (a); 2-1 West Brom (h)
Hull: 2-2 Arsenal (a); 2-0 Palace (h); 2-4 City (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Sterling 3; Gerrard 2; Coutinho, Henderson, Lallana, Moreno, Sturridge 1
Hull: Diame, Jelavic 4; Hernandez 3; Chester 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Guess at a line-up:
Manquillo Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Henderson Allen
Sterling Lambert

It's just a guess, but I suspect Balotelli will be left on the bench after his performance against Real, and I don't know how I feel about this. It's fairly obvious that he's not playing well, that he's low on confidence, but I still maintain Liverpool are vastly more problematic at the other end of the pitch. Balotelli's an easy scapegoat, and that's what he's being portrayed as, evidenced by the utterly inane focus on swapping shirts with Pepe at halftime on Wednesday, a non-story if there ever was one.

There are much better scapegoats to be found in defense. Once again, the central pairing has to remain the same because Sakho's still out injured and Liverpool are frightening enough without adding Kolo Toure to the mix thank you very much, but Glen Johnson cannot start. Please. No one's free from blame in that back four but Johnson has been dire in his last two starts, and has a readymade replacement in the rested Manquillo, much more impressive so far this season.

There are seemingly two options for how Liverpool's attack is deployed. The pseudo-diamond with Sterling as a second striker – which changed into something of a 4-3-2-1 when Liverpool defended – deployed against Real Madrid, or the more-usual 4-3-3 with Lambert or Balotelli flanked by two from Sterling, Coutinho, and Lallana. There's also a slight chance that the diamond includes both Lambert and Balotelli, but that's a fairly immobile pairing. Borini, left out of the 18 in the last two matches, doesn't seem a plausible alternative.

With Allen back, the midfield still pretty much writes itself, unless Rodgers gambles and drops Coutinho deeper in an attempt to get him, Sterling, and Lallana all on the pitch at the same time. But that's a fairly lightweight team, even at home against Hull, and drastically limits Liverpool's options off the bench.

Hull, currently in 11th, three points behind Liverpool, will be missing key players as well, with Michael Dawson, Nikica Jelavic, and the top two goalkeepers out absent, requiring a second appearance for third-string Eldin Jakupovic.

Steve Bruce's side has scored in every league match this season – which bodes poorly for Liverpool's ability to maybe, possibly, for-once-in-their-damned-lives keep a clean sheet – and have scored two in each of the last five matches: a 2-2 draw against Arsenal last time out is one of three 2-2 draws, also beating Palace 2-0 at home and frightening Manchester City before losing 2-4. But those 13 goals have been scored by just four players, as well as one own goal. And one of those four players, the ex-Evertonian Jelavic, will miss out.

Without Dawson, Steve Bruce may decide to switch away from his preferred three-at-the-back formation. Dawson's replacement, Alex Bruce, is a much less effective sweeper, and was at fault for Arsenal's equalizer last week. The two options are drafting Bruce into the 3-5-1, or a 4-4-1-1 formation with Gaston Ramirez or Hatem Ben Arfa playing off of Abel Hernandez. I still think he'll try to shoehorn his son into defense, but Liverpool will need to be prepared for either formation. Regardless, Mo Diame will be the key player in midfield; he's caused problems for Liverpool in previous seasons when at West Ham, with lung-busting runs from midfield breaking Liverpool's tenuous lines.

Last season, this fixture featured one of Liverpool's ten clean sheets: a tepid 2-0 win thanks to set play goals from Agger and Suarez. Liverpool rarely looked like scoring from open play, but were supremely unthreatened at the other end, as Hull failed to put a single shot on target. Well, both of those goal-scorers are gone, Liverpool have scored just two set play goals all season, Liverpool's opponents have averaged almost six shots on-target per match in the last four league fixtures, and the last non-Tottenham clean sheet came at Manchester United in March. Liverpool actually failed to score an open play goal against Hull in both meetings last season, the other a 1-3 loss away, arguably Liverpool's worst performance of the season.

So tomorrow should be fun. Liverpool simply have to respond after the drubbing incurred on Wednesday, and – despite all the bad feelings of late – continue this two-match mini-winning streak in the league. But it certainly won't be easy.

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