22 January 2016

Liverpool at Norwich 1.23.16

7:45am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 09.20.15
3-2 Liverpool (a) 04.20.14
5-1 Liverpool (h) 12.04.13
5-0 Liverpool (h) 01.19.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Exeter (h); 0-1 United (h); 3-3 Arsenal (h)
Norwich: 0-3 Bournemouth (a); 1-3 Stoke (a); 0-3 City (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke 6; Coutinho 5; Firmino 3; Ings, Milner, Sturridge 2; Allen, Henderson, Origi, Skrtel 1
Norwich: Redmond 4; Howson, Jerome, Martin, Mbokani 3; Hoolahan, Tettey 2; Brady, Grabban, Jarvis, Whittaker 1

Referee: Lee Mason

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Toure Sakho Moreno
Henderson Can Milner
Firmino Benteke Ibe

As if Liverpool didn't have enough injury issues, Lallana's now doubtful with a muscle problem. Coutinho, Sturridge, Origi, et al unsurprisingly remain absent. At this rate, Liverpool will have no senior attackers left.

Despite Benteke and Ibe both playing 90 minutes of Wednesday, you'd assume at least one of them, and probably both, would have to start, whether in the above 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 with Ibe on the right, Milner on the left, and Firmino drifting centrally around Benteke.

The only other option seems 4-4-2 diamond: a midfield with four from Lucas, Henderson, Can, Milner, and Allen behind Firmino and Benteke. I worry about Henderson or Milner's ability to create from the apex of the diamond, but otherwise, that's actually not a bad option. Liverpool will almost certainly dominate possession. This formation would allow the four-man midfield to control tenor and tempo while fullbacks provide the width and both Benteke and Firmino (ideally) challenge Norwich's center backs. Play through the middle through Firmino, cross to Benteke, with at least two runners from midfield making those needed and dangerous runs into the box.

You never know; maybe a new formation will actually help Liverpool score goals for a change. Otherwise, same old, same old in defense. Lovren and Skrtel are still out, Clyne and Moreno will remain ever-present (although it is reassuring to see competition from Smith on the left and the returning Flanagan on the right). The goals remain "don't do anything stupid," "defend the damned set plays," and "hey, maybe save the opposition's first shot on-target." Liverpool, somehow, have kept a clean sheet in the last six matches (all competitions) when saving the first shot on-target. Liverpool are weird.

Maybe Tuesday's second leg cup semi-final will come into play, and Liverpool will deploy a slightly weaker XI than expected, but given the injury situation and recent results, I suspect Liverpool will just have to pick its XI for this match, and hope everything works out for the next. No matter Liverpool's current form or position, the league isn't the FA Cup.

Meanwhile, Norwich are on a bit of a slide, losing their last three matches, allowing three goals in each of those matches. Don't get excited. Liverpool are still Liverpool and Norwich have still been surprisingly good at home: unbeaten in the league at Carrow Road since October 24, with draws against Arsenal and Everton, and wins over Swansea, Villa, and Southampton.

Amazingly for this time of year, Norwich have no one injured. Gary O'Neil is suspended and Andre Wisdom is ineligible, but neither would start anyway. They've signed Steven Naismith, Timo Klose (center-back), Ivo Pinto (right-back), and Ben Godfrey (18-year-old midfielder) this month, and at least two – Naismith and Klose – will probably debut. Naismith's routinely played well against Liverpool when starting for Everton, even if he's only scored once in his four starts, with Everton and Liverpool finishing level in each of those matches.

So let's guess Naismith and Klose start, and that Redmond comes back into the side after appearing as a substitute in the last couple of matches. Norwich's XI should be Rudd; Martin, Bassong, Klose, Brady; Howson, Tettey; Naismith, Hoolahan, Redmond; Mbokani. Vadis Odjidja-Ofe could keep his place ahead of Redmond; Naismith could start up front if Norwich want to rely even more heavily on the counter-attack; Dorrans could be the third in midfield if Norwich line up in a 4-3-3; Ruddy could come back in for Rudd in goal after the latter's three concessions in the last two matches.

Tomorrow's match can seemingly go one of two ways. It could be Newcastle or Watford, where Liverpool fail to break down a resilient defense away from home, struggle to create chances, struggle to score, and concede one or more against the run of play. Or it could be Sunderland or Stoke, where Liverpool thankfully stay secure and eventually eke out a needed winner.

Frighteningly, seven of Norwich's 24 league goals have come from set plays. Which doesn't seem like a lot – hell, Liverpool are terrible at set plays and they've scored five – but that's 29.2% of all Norwich's goals. Only West Brom and Crystal Palace have a higher percentage scored from set plays. Liverpool conceded set play goals against both West Brom and Palace. And Norwich, in the reverse fixture. Sigh.

Liverpool still haven't won a league match in 2016: losing to West Ham and United, drawing with Arsenal. Liverpool still haven't been anywhere near good enough at either end of the pitch for weeks, if not months. Liverpool are still deservedly ninth, eight points off fourth and unable to make ground up in a narrow, unimpressive league.

Liverpool simply need to be better.


E Coutinho Can said...

I hope Ojo stole your marbles really. What a peach of a goal!

Just another Liverpool blog. Please support thank you.


Anonymous said...

Expect to continue to concede from set plays as long as we continue to send out a team filled with small players; it really seems that it may be that simple.