07 March 2015

Liverpool v Blackburn 03.08.15

12pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 04.10.12
1-1 (h) 12.26.11
1-3 Blackburn (a) 01.05.11
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.24.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Burnley (h); 2-1 City (h); 0-1 Besiktas aet (a)
Blackburn: 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday (a); 0-0 Bournemouth (a); 1-2 Norwich (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-1 Palace (a); 2-1 Bolton (a); 0-0 Bolton (h); 2-1 Wimbledon (a)
Blackburn: 4-1 Stoke (h); 3-1 Swansea (h); 2-1 Charlton (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Gerrard, Sterling 10; Coutinho, Henderson, Lallana 5; Sturridge 4; Balotelli, Lambert, Markovic 3; Moreno 2; Borini, Can, Johnson, Lovren, Rossiter, Skrtel, Suso 1
Blackburn: Gestede 15; Rhodes 13; Marshall 6; King 4; Baptiste, Taylor 3; Cairney, Conway 2; Duffy, Evans, Hanley, Henley, Tunnicliffe 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Sterling Henderson Allen Moreno
Lallana Coutinho

Cup line-ups, whether it's the FA Cup, League Cup, or Europe, always seem stronger than expected, there's often less rotation than expected. Liverpool have eight days until the subsequent match, and for the most part – unless Liverpool progress further in this competition – Liverpool have just one match a week for the rest of the season.

So other than Sakho's probable return, Liverpool's XI will probably look a lot like Wednesday's XI, which looked a lot like last Sunday's XI. Maybe Markovic replaces either Sterling or Moreno at wing-back. Maybe Balotelli starts up front after his excellent performance in the previous round, or maybe it's Sterling with Sturridge left on the bench for protection. Maybe Gerrard's back earlier than expected, starting immediately after returning to training earlier this week.

Liverpool have some options, but the safe bet is guessing the usual.

Liverpool will be Liverpool, and it's up to Blackburn to cope.

Rovers are currently 10th in the Championship, and have become a side rebuilt in Sam Allardyce's template from seven or so years ago. 4-4-2: compact, combative, and reliant upon the strikers for goals. And those strikers are pretty decent. Rudy Gestede has 15 goals in all competitions, Jordan Rhodes has 13, the two players responsible for more than 50% of Blackburn's goals. There are few sides who play 4-4-2 in the Premier League, but this will be the third straight game that Liverpool have faced a strike partnership, after Agüero and Dzeko then Barnes and Ings. While Liverpool are unsurprisingly more comfortable facing a lone striker, the three-at-the-back formation is set up to cope with this type of opposition.

However, last round's hat-trick hero Josh King is out injured, as are defenders Duffy, Lowe, and Baptiste, while Grant Hanley is doubtful and Jay Spearing cup-tied after facing Liverpool in the fourth round. Blackburn's XI on Wednesday against Sheffield Wednesday was Steele; Henley, Henry, Kilgallon, Spurr; Taylor, Williamson, Spearing, Marshall; Brown, Rhodes. There has to be at least one change – most likely Tom Cairney or Corry Evans for Spearing – but I also expect Gestede to come into the side, probably replacing Chris Brown, while Marcus Olsson could come in at left back or left midfield.

Blackburn will try to do exactly what Bolton did at Anfield two rounds earlier: frustrate Liverpool and maybe kind of hope to threaten on the counter and set plays. Bolton were 3-5-2 and Blackburn will play 4-4-2, but otherwise, the thought processes will be similar. The differences, hopefully, will be the defenses. One side kept at least five defenders (and a few midfielders) behind the ball. Tomorrow's opponents will probably start a mostly unfamiliar back four with all the aforementioned defenders out injured.

Blackburn have kept just one clean sheet since the New Year, a 0-0 draw at Bournemouth at week ago (a side, it's worth noting, that Liverpool comfortably beat 3-1 on their ground in the League Cup). They often only concede once, but they almost always concede once. It'll be up to Liverpool to continue that trend. And better it.

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