07 April 2015

Liverpool at Blackburn 04.08.15

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 03.08.15
3-2 Liverpool (a) 04.10.12
1-1 (h) 12.26.11
1-3 Blackburn (a) 01.05.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-4 Arsenal (a); 1-2 United (h); 1-0 Swansea (a)
Blackburn: 3-0 Leeds (a); 0-1 Brighton (h); 2-3 Brentford (a)

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

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Gerrard, Sterling 10; Henderson 7; Coutinho, Lallana, Sturridge 5; Balotelli 4; Lambert, Markovic 3; Moreno 2; Borini, Can, Johnson, Lovren, Rossiter, Skrtel, Suso 1
Blackburn: Rhodes 17; Gestede 16; Marshall 6; King, C Taylor 4; Baptiste, Cairney, Conway 3; Duffy, Evans, Hanley, Henley, Spearing, Tunnicliffe 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Lovren Sakho
Markovic Henderson Allen Moreno
Sterling Sturridge

A quarterfinal replay in the FA Cup, the last chance for any meaningful reward from this trying season.

We know Rodgers will deploy a full-strength XI, or as full-strength as possible. That's his modus operandi in most cup matches, let alone a cup match that's taken on this importance. But will Liverpool persist with the 3-4-2-1?

That two of Liverpool's three preferred center-backs are suspended (along with Gerrard) makes three-at-the-back a tougher proposition. If Rodgers retains the formation, two from Toure, Lovren, and Johnson will have to start in defense along with Sakho. And that's a frightening proposition. But I'm not sure it's more frightening that Sakho and Lovren or Toure partnered against Blackburn's probable 4-4-2.

If Liverpool do switch to a four-man defense, I hope it'll be with a diamond in midfield and two strikers up front. If Liverpool stick with three at the back, I hope it'll be with two strikers up front.

Put simply, it's become fairly clear that Sturridge needs a strike partner. And right now, given that Balotelli is "injured" and that Borini and Lambert are Borini and Lambert, that strike partner has to be Sterling. Play him higher up the pitch, trying to do things that Suarez did last season – constant movement, running with the ball at his feet, dragging defenders out of position so Sturridge can exploit the space – with Coutinho deeper. Whether that's in a 4-4-2 diamond or a 3-4-1-2 seems a less important facet.

Otherwise, the team writes itself. If a 4-4-2 diamond: Manqullo and Moreno as the fullbacks with a midfield of Lucas, Allen, Henderson, and Coutinho. If 3-4-1-2: Markovic and Moreno as the wing-backs with Henderson and Lucas or Allen in midfield. Both Lallana and Balotelli might be available after missing Saturday's match through injury, but I doubt either is in line (or should be in line) to start anyway.

Blackburn lost three in a row before beating 10-man Leeds by three goals on Saturday, their first comprehensive performance since holding Liverpool scoreless a month ago, with all three goals (from Cairney, Rhodes, and Spearing) coming after the dismissal. Teenage goalkeeper David Raya Martin made his debut, and strikers Gestede and Brown both went off with knocks which make them questionable for tomorrow.

Gary Bowyer's side lined up in a 4-5-1 in the reverse fixture, but have almost always played 4-4-2 in recent Championship matches. At home, they're seemingly more likely to go with the more familiar, more potent formation. In which case it'll be something like Steele; Henley, Baptiste, Kilgallon, Olsson; Cairney, Williamson, Evans, Marshall; Rhodes, Gestede.

Jay Spearing's cup-tied; as with Gestede and Brown, Chris Taylor's also questionable; Conway, Hanley, Dunn, and King will most likely miss out through injury. Gestede and Brown's availability will determine whether or not 4-4-2 is feasible; if both aren't ready to start, it'll have to be 4-5-1. Either way, Blackburn's tactics won't differ much. Sit deep, congest the middle of the park, sporadic midfield pressing, and look for Rhodes or Gestede or Rhodes and Gestede on the counter.

It will be interesting to see just how much pressing Blackburn attempt. That's how Swansea, United, and Arsenal have attacked Liverpool over the last few weeks, and that's been one of Liverpool's major failings over the last few weeks (along with Liverpool's much-discussed impotence). Will Blackburn be brave enough to take the game to Liverpool, to potentially leave space in behind if Liverpool can break the press? They are at home and Liverpool are a wounded animal at the moment, but it's somewhat antithetical to how Blackburn usually play, and how Blackburn "succeeded" against Liverpool at Anfield.

But regardless of how Blackburn approach the match, there simply has to be a response from Liverpool tomorrow. The season isn't over yet, there's more than just pride to play for (even if pride, especially after the last two losses, should be enough). But if Liverpool don't respond tomorrow, this season truly will be over. And I'm truly terrified of the fall out that will accompany it.

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