09 December 2015

Liverpool at FC Sion 12.10.15

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

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Newcastle (a); 6-1 Southampton (a); 1-0 Swansea
Sion: 0-1 Zurich (a); 1-2 Thun (h); 0-2 Kazan (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-1 Bordeaux (h); 1-0 Kazan (a); 1-1 Kazan (h); 1-1 Sion (h); 1-1 Bordeaux (a)
Sion: 0-2 Kazan (a); 1-1 Bordeaux (h); 1-0 Bordeaux (a); 1-1 Liverpool (a); 2-1 Kazan (h)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Lallana 2, Benteke, Can, Ibe, Milner 1
Sion: Konate 2; Assifuah, Lacroix 1

Referee: Michael Koukoulakis (GRE)

Guess at a line-up:
Randall Toure Lovren Clyne
Rossiter Can Henderson
Lallana Firmino

So, who's available, and how much does Liverpool care?

Moreno, Lucas, Allen, Ibe, and Sturridge haven't traveled – the first three because of the amount of matches they've played lately, Ibe due to illness, and Sturridge because of a hamstring strain (siiiiiiiigh) picked up against Newcastle. Coutinho, finally fit after a hamstring injury, has, but it's hard to see him starting in his first match back.

It will, by necessity and by situation, be a very makeshift line-up. similar to the Bournemouth League Cup tie. That day, Liverpool's XI was Bogdan; Randall, Toure, Lovren, Clyne; Brannagan, Allen; Ibe, Firmino, Teixeira; Origi.

Somewhere between five and seven of those players will start: the back four and Origi, maybe Firmino and Bogdan as well. I suspect Rossiter will replace Brannagan, and Can will replace Allen, and Henderson and Lallana will come in for Teixeira and Ibe, switching Liverpool's formation to more of a 4-3-3. Rossiter's seemingly further along in his development than Brannagan, finally available for a first appearance under Klopp. Both Can and Lallana are fresh after not starting against Newcastle. After two substitute appearances and then available but unused at Newcastle, you'd have to think Henderson's ready to play from the start. It couldn't be a more welcomed return. Teixeira's ineligible for the Europa League – an incredibly stupid decision in retrospect.

Maybe Origi partners Benteke, a return to the 4-Diamond-2 which worked so well at Southampton. Maybe Coutinho's judged fully fit, and Liverpool revert to the 4-3-3 and front three which worked so well at Manchester City. But I doubt it. Liverpool will, and should, take as few risks as possible. Liverpool have qualified; it'd be nice to finish top of the group, ideally avoiding the best teams left in the competition, but finishing first didn't help in 2012-13 when Liverpool drew Zenit. This is Liverpool's last midweek match until the festive calendar starts; after Boxing Day, Liverpool will have two matches a week for more than a month. With qualification sealed, with key players either (again) injured or ill or just returning to fitness, this match is simply not a priority. This match is probably as low a priority as you can have for a non-friendly, mid-season match.

Meanwhile, Sion aren't in the best state either, having won just one of their last seven games since the start of November, drawing twice and losing four, including their last three fixtures. They've dropped to sixth in the Swiss Super League, 21 points behind first, 11 behind second, but only seven off of the bottom. They remain second in the group (after leading the group following the first four match days), but a loss in Kazan on the last match day means they could need something from this match depending on the other group fixture.

I suspect Sion's XI will look a lot like the one which played at Anfield two months ago. Vanins; Zverotic, Lacroix, Ziegler, Pa Modou; Kouassi, Salatic, Edimilson; Mujangi Bia, Assifuah, Carlitos. Moussa Konate, Sion's top scorer, hasn't played since fracturing his hand against Kazan two weeks ago; if he's unable to feature (it's your hand, it's not like you're using it…) it'll be Karlan, Follonier, or Mujangi Bia instead, the latter two more likely used on the wing with Assifuah up front. Ndoye, who came on as a sub at Anfield, is suspended. Otherwise, a surprisingly clean bill of health. Must be nice.

Liverpool really should have won the last meeting, handily. 19 shots to Sion's 10, six clear-cut chances created, just one goal scored. It was as wasteful as we've seen Liverpool; that was in the midst of the stretch against Norwich, Carlisle, Villa, and Sion at Anfield, where Liverpool scored just six goals from 111 shots while the opposition scored five from 33, and Liverpool drew three of the four matches 1-1. It was the streak which broke the camel's back, which marked the end of Brendan Rodgers' tenure.

However, when Liverpool have drawn or lost or even struggled to a win under Klopp, the problem hasn't been errant shooting. It's been chance creation, sadly evidenced by both the win over Swansea and loss at Newcastle. If Liverpool, with a similar lineup as in the last meeting (if a very different formation), create six clear-cut chances tomorrow, you'd expect Liverpool to win at a canter.

We need to see Liverpool under Klopp capable of creating those chances. That's much, much more important than the result tomorrow, no matter who plays.

Sion need a point to seal their place in the knockout stages, currently three points ahead of Kazan, but if Kazan beat Bordeaux and Sion lose, Kazan has the head-to-head tie-breaker. A draw suits Liverpool just fine as well. Klopp's side won't play for the draw – I don't think Jürgen Klopp's capable of sending out a side to "play for the draw" – but they won't, and shouldn't, kill themselves to avoid one either.

Were I a betting man, that's what I'd bet on.

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