EighteenAndFive

In-depth and Intelligent Views on Liverpool FC & Football in General

Category Archives: Match Reports/Previews

Everton vs. Liverpool: Ranking the 12 Best Bits of Premier League Merseyside Derby Matches


Glasgow, Buenos Aires, Manchester and the North-East can keep theirs—for me, Liverpool vs. Everton, the Merseyside derby, is the best in the world. I love when the time rolls around each season for the derby match; the massive build-up all week when Red and Blue mix and clash and talk and claim that this is their best-prepared side in years and that victory will be theirs, all the while dreading inside what will happen if they actually lose.

It’s huge, it’s massive, it’s right there in front of us, next week.

Everton play at home in the first derby of this season and the match at Goodison Park will be one Liverpool will be desperate to win having not won either of the clashes last season—Everton won comfortably 2-0 at home before an entertaining 2-2 draw was fought out at Anfield soon after Kenny Dalglish took up the reins.

Sit back, enjoy and roll on next week!

12. Red Cards

You just know that someone is going to get one.

Since the Premier League started, no league fixture has seen more sendings off than the Merseyside derby. Fiery tackles, high-octane high-tempo matches and massive pressure sometimes gets the better of players.

And sometimes, Tim Cahill is just a dirty little bastard.

20 red cards have been shown for players to receive their marching orders in this fixture since 1992-93, eight for Liverpool and 12 for Everton.

Here’s the full list:

Robbie Fowler, David Unsworth, Sander Westerveld, Steven Gerrard x2, Francis Jeffers, Thomas Graveson, Igor Biscan, David Weir, Gary Naysmith, Milan Baros, Mikel Arteta, Phil Neville x2, Andy van der Meyde, Tony Hibbert, Tim Cahill, Lucas Leiva, Soto Kyrgiakos and Steven Pienaar.

11. Predicting the Starting Eleven

You buy your match-day programme and replica merchandise around the ground, you load up your computer stream, you head to the local pub or you turn on Sky Sports.

Whatever your match-day routine, one thing never changes—at some point in the build-up, you turn your mind to what the starting line-up will be for your team, and maybe even for the Blue Shite.

Who would have thought that for Rafa Benitez, in his first derby as Liverpool manager would drop Xabi Alonso in favour of Salif Diao? Or that in 1997-98 in Roy Evans’ last derby in sole charge of the first team, Aussie midfielder Nicky Rizzo, who never made a first team appearance for Liverpool, would suddenly make the bench for a derby match?

Derbies are unpredictable occasions and that goes for the managers sometimes just as much as events on the field during the game itself.

10. Knock-out Cup Fixtures

Unfortunately there haven’t been too many cup ties involving Liverpool and Everton since the inception of the Premier League and for that reason only, this item is a little lower down on the list than might be expected.

May 1989:  Ian Rush (centre) of Liverpool beats goalkeeper Neville Southall of Everton to score their second goal during the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium in London. Liverpool won the match 3-2. \ Mandatory Credit: Simon  Bruty/Allsport

In fact, since 1992-93 there has only been one occasion when the sides met; in an FA Cup fourth round tie three seasons ago they met at Anfield and fought out a 1-1 draw with Steven Gerrard and Joleon Lescott on the score-sheet. Everton won the replay with a late-in-extra-time Dan Gosling goal.

Prior to the early ’90s though, all-Merseyside cup ties were a relatively regular occurrence; none more poignant or memorable of course than the 1989 FA Cup final (pictured) where the Reds triumphed 3-2 after extra time on a day which was about so much more than just the football.The replay at Goodison Park ended up 1-0 to Everton after extra time with Lucas seeing red for Liverpool and Dan Gosling netting the late winner.

Kenny Dalglish’s first stint as Liverpool manager indeed effectively came to an end in the midst of a three-match cup replay marathon in 1991; after a 0-0 Anfield stalemate and a 4-4 Goodison Park thriller, the Toffees eventually triumphed 1-0 in the second replay.

9. Winding Up Work Colleagues, Family, Friends and Random People You Know

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 20:  Liverpool fans make fun of the Everton fans by showing Tescos carrier bags during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool  at Goodison Park on October 20, 2007 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo

We all do it, because we’re so glad it’s not us on the receiving end!

Whether it’s the score-line, the performance or an off-field matter; whether by way of a text message, a joke, a picture or a banner held in the crowd, winding up the opposition fans that you know is a way to show your team is best and you know it, they know it and everybody in football knows it.

Until the next time you get beaten, obviously.

8. Match Day Atmosphere

During the game itself, the Merseyside derby match atmosphere can be anything from loud and passionate to some way past fiery and hate-filled these days.

Before kick-off, however, it’s all about the songs—backing your team, lifting yourselves and the players and trying to intimidate the opposition through a huge show of Red strength.

7. League Table Satisfaction

For a few short hours a season, the entire Premier League table doesn’t matter.

Whether you’re top four or relegation zone, middle of the table or a point off the top, it doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that you are above the Bitters.

A win for Liverpool on Saturday will leave them at least four places above Everton and six points clear.

An Everton victory means the teams will be level on points and the Blues will be above the Reds on goal difference.

6. Regular Derby Day Heroes 

It takes a fearless kinda guy to stand up and be counted in a Merseyside derby, again and again and again.

Not only is that player likely to be hugely adored by his own fans (at least for a while) but they will also be enormously detested by half the city they live in.

But sometimes it just so happens that a particular match brings out the best attributes in a goalscorer and the Merseyside derby definitely does that to some people.

The great Ian Rush scored a huge 25 goals for Liverpool against Everton, including a famous four in one game which has been immortalised in song on the Kop.

Of the current crop of players, Everton’s Tim Cahill has netted five times in these fixtures (and without a goal since halfway through last season, wouldn’t it be typical for him to end that barren run on Saturday?), while the same number has been scored by Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard.

5. Bringing Through the Local Pride

Over the years some of the finest pieces of action in Merseyside derbies have been given by local players who have come through the ranks of both sides.LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16:  Marouane Fellaini of Everton is challenged by Jay Spearing of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on January 16, 2011 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey /

Last season Jay Spearing was given a massive boost by being thrown straight into the team by new boss Kenny Dalglish for the derby against Everton and produced a good performance which led to him becoming a fixture in the team over the last month or two of the season.

Before him, obviously Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have had a huge impact—at both ends of the scale—in these matches for years, while Everton have fielded a succession of local players such as Tony Hibbert, Leon Osman (born in Wigan but an Everton youth player) and more recently Jack Rodwell. Other home-grown produced players such as Jose Baxter and Ross Barkley could go on to join the list in the future.

Liverpool have seen the likes of Stephen Warnock, Robbie Fowler and Neil Mellor (again, not Liverpool-born but certainly raised) take part in derbies and this season could add Martin Kelly to that line of players.

For these lads it can be an extra special occasion, at times even more so because members of their families could support both teams, and a debut Merseyside derby is really an event to remember and savour.

4. Really Battering Your Closest Rivals

Any kind of win in a local derby is a special feeling, but there is a certain kind of satisfaction which comes when you absolutely and completely play them off the park.

Last season Liverpool got that handed to them in the first derby game of the season but since it came under the, ahem, stewardship of Hodgson we can discount that as a lesson well learned.

The two games in 2005-06 which finished 3-1 at both Anfield (Gerrard and van der Meyde sent off) and Goodison Park (Arteta and Neville sent off) were both classics from a Red point of view where the scoreline could have been doubled with ease.

A 3-0 in 03-04 was similarly fantastic, while Liverpool were well off the pace and soundly beaten in 06-07 by the same scoreline at Goodison Park when Reina had a bit of a ‘mare.

Here’s hoping for a 6-0 away win on Saturday.

3. Great Derby Day Goals

Smashing a 25-yarder into the far corner of the net is a special feeling whenever you do it—down the park, in your back garden, on the school playing field or on FIFA12, it doesn’t matter, it’s still a great goal.

So what must it feel like to score one of those in a derby match?!

Enjoy ten of the best Merseyside derby goals from recent times.

2. Last Minute Salvation

2007-08.

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 20:  Dirk Kuyt of Liverpool celebrates scoring  the first goal from the penalty spot  during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool  at Goodison Park on October 20, 2007 in Liverpool, England.

Goodison Park.

90th minute.

1-1.

Lucas!

Shoots!

Handball!

Penalty!!

Dirk Kuyt!!

LIVERPOOL WIN THE DERBY!!!!

Madness.

1. That Derby Day Victory Feeling

You’ve put in the graft, you’ve sweated your… well, all parts of your body off, you’ve been through the mixer of emotions and you’ve got the bruises to prove it.

And that’s just the fans!

Take a step back and appreciate the work and tackles the players get through in a derby match and just…. remember….after everything that’s come before it…. that full-time feeling when YOU’VE WON.

Arsenal vs Liverpool: Five Key Battles for Saturday’s Big Premier League Match


Arsenal and Liverpool will do battle this weekend on Saturday in the first of the big clashes in this season’s Premier League. Last season these two teams fought out an exciting battle that culminated in two late penalties—the second of which came in the 98th minute, an equaliser from Dirk Kuyt after Robin van Persie scored a few minutes earlier—and a 1-1 draw.

Since then, both sides have had something of an eventful summer, for differing reasons.

While Liverpool have embarked on a spending spree to bring in the likes of Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique; Arsenal have seen their captain, Cesc Fabregas, depart for Barcelona and playmaker Samir Nasri is likely to follow suit in exiting forManchester City, the landing point of Gael Clichy.

Forward Gervinho has been brought in, but will be suspended for the match on Saturday, as will midfielder Alex Song. Defenders Johan Djourou and Keiran Gibbs departed the mid-week fixture injured, leaving the Gunners with a real shortage at the back.

Liverpool, for their part, will be missing right-back Glen Johnson and long-term absentee Steven Gerrard, but everybody else has recovered from their knocks and Dalglish has an almost full squad to choose from.

Here we take a look at the five key battles on the pitch that will have a big say on the outcome of the game.

 

1: Andy Carroll vs. Laurent Koscielny

After a difficult start to his career where he was sent off on his Arsenal debut (against Liverpool, ironically), Laurent Koscielny proved to be a decent acquisition for the Gunners. He excelled in leading the defence to press high up the pitch, something which could not be said for fellow centre-back signing Squillaci.

However, he is not dominant aerially and is also prone to standing off physical players—something Andy Carroll took full advantage of when playing against the Frenchman for old club Newcastle.

Recovering from injury last season when the Reds took on Arsenal, he did not have the impact he would have liked. Expect something very different this time around as Liverpool will look to press the advantage of having the powerful threat of Carroll to hold the ball up.

With any set pieces, Carroll is likely to try to attach himself near to Koscielny in an attempt to beat him in the air.

 

2: Aaron Ramsey vs. Lucas Leiva

Following the departure of Cesc Fabregas, the suspension of Alex Song and the likely absence of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey is likely to be the focal central midfielder for the Gunners again.

Possessing a good range of passing and an energetic style of play, Ramsey is more than just a promising midfielder at this stage. He is far more likely than either Wilshere or Cesc to get involved in play inside the opposition penalty area and try to score as well as contribute to the link-up play for which the Gunners have become renowned.

For this reason above all others, Lucas Leiva will be a key player for Liverpool against Arsenal; he is the one player capable of tracking opponents’ runs through midfield, is a good tackler and is an expert at positioning himself well to pick up second-balls.

 

3: Arsenal Left-Back vs. Liverpool Right Midfield

Probably the one area for either team which could be filled by different people at this point; most of the starting eleven for Arsenal and Liverpool could probably be predicted but the left-back slot for the Gunners and the right side of Liverpool’s midfield/attack is very much up for grabs.

Following Clichy’s departure Keiran Gibbs stepped up last weekend to start the season at left-back but suffered an injury against Udinesein mid-week, leading to Thomas Vermaelen switching to that position from the centre. However after Djourou was almost immediately replaced after himself replacing Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson came on for his Arsenal debut after joining the club from Charlton in the summer. The youngster is a highly rated prospect but is untested in the Premier League until now and Arsene Wenger needs to decide if he is to be risked in such a big game. Of course, Liverpool faced a similar situation last season in this fixture and came up trumps after Jack Robinson replaced Fabio Aurelio to such good effect.

Armand Traore is the other left back on the Arsenal books at present.

For Liverpool, the right midfielder could be seen as a key player regardless of who is picked for Arsenal at left back; Jenkinson’s inexperience, Vermaelen being out of his primary position or Traore’s relative lack of game time for the Gunners recently could all mean that the Reds have an opportunity to exploit that area of the pitch.

Jordan Henderson started on the right against Sunderland on the opening day but was replaced around the hour mark by regular right-sider Dirk Kuyt. Henderson obviously offers good delivery and stamina on that side of the pitch but is certain to drift inside to a more central position too, while Kuyt will offer perhaps a little more width and better service in terms of getting into the Arsenal box to link up with the front men.

A third option—one which is perhaps likely to be seen at some point during the game even if not from the beginning—is to stick Stewart Downing out on the right flank and let him run at the Arsenal left-back as often as possible, cutting inside onto his favoured left foot.

 

4: Robin van Persie vs. Pepe Reina

As always, Arsenal’s main goal threat is highly likely to come in the form of newly-installed official skipper Robin van Persie.

Last season he beat Reina from the penalty spot while in the reverse fixture Reina spilled an apparently straight-forward catch into his own net.

On his day van Persie is a world-beater and his strike rate in the second half of last season was one of the few bright spots for the Gunners as their season collapsed around them. Regardless of who is paired at centre back for Liverpool—Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger should be again after the latter recovered from a knock—it is likely that the Dutchman will get at least one opportunity on goal and it is then that Pepe Reina will be called upon.

As consistent and excellent a performer as can be found between the sticks in the Premier League, Reina is hugely important for Liverpool and is adept in his shot-stopping as he is in his organisation of the defence.

Thwarting van Persie for ninety minutes will go a long way towards helping Liverpool to three big points.

 

5: Jose Enrique vs. Theo Walcott

Liverpool’s newest recruit, Spanish left-back Jose Enrique, started against Sunderland last week just hours after signing from Newcastle United and put in an encouraging performance on his debut.

On Saturday he is likely to start again and will come up against Theo Walcott who should come into the starting eleven in place of the suspended Gervinho.

Walcott will of course offer a whole load of pace and will look to get forward and into the area at every opportunity, something which Jose Enrique will have to try to turn on its head to have his best impact for the club.

If Liverpool can have possession and Jose Enrique can get forward himself Walcott will be forced backwards to cover and be kept away from goal, something which will benefit Liverpool immensely.

Another advantage that Jose Enrique should offer Liverpool is his great pace which should nullify that of even Walcott who will usually use that attribute above all others to gain an edge over his opponents.

 

Predicting the Outcome:

You have to go all the way back to 1999-2000 season and a Titi Camara winner for the last time Liverpool managed to beat Arsenal on their home ground in the league—Highbury, as it was then—but the Reds will surely feel they have a massive chance to put an end to that run this weekend.

Arsenal are weakened through suspension, injury and having sold or nearly sold two key players; some fans are far from giving their unconditional support to a manager they feel has failed to strengthen the team in key areas and the Gunners are really going to come under scrutiny this season—rightly or wrongly, its going to happen—every time they fail to win a game, mainly as they are seen as the ‘easiest’ team to knock out of the top four spots.

Liverpool on the other hand are by-and-large happy with their summer dealings and in full backing of their manager and will take a decent travelling support to the Emirates Stadium.

They also have one other wild-card who wasn’t mentioned in the key battles: Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan magician will look to move in and out of spaces between Arsenal’s midfield and defence and it is here that the absence of Alex Song will be felt most keenly for Arsenal.

Despite all their apparent weaknesses however, Arsenal are never an easy fixture and if they start well and get into their passing game without Liverpool pressing them quickly they have the pace, movement and fire-power in Rosicky, van Persie, Walcott and Arshavin to really test the Liverpool defence who will still be getting put together one piece at time; Kelly and Flanagan will likely battle it out for the right back spot and Glen Johnson has yet to return.

It is sure to be an eventful game and will throw up some fascinating tactical battles all over the pitch—but I am firmly backing Liverpool to end an eleven-and-a-half year winless streak and take all three points.

 

If you can’t watch the match this weekend you can follow my live text commentary and analysis of the Premier League game between Arsenal and Liverpool this weekend, along with every other Premiership fixture on that day, on Bleacher Report. Become my fan now to easily find the commentary on Saturday from 12:30pm UK / 7:30am ET.

Liverpool Under 19’s Gear Up for NextGen Series; European Test Awaits Youngsters


In less than two weeks, Liverpool and fifteen other teams kick off their NextGen Series tournaments with the first round of fixtures in the new European under-19 tournament, with its Champions League-style format.

For Liverpool this represents another step up for the highly acclaimed Academy set up which has been overseen for the last couple of seasons by Frank McParland (Director), Pep Segura (Technical Director), Rodolfo Borrell (under-18 coach) and Mike Marsh (under-16 coach). This summer saw something of a change to the coaching set-up as Marsh took over the under-18 side and Borrell moved up to lead the reserve team, which functions mainly as an under-21 side for Liverpool these days.

Great strides have been made by the youngsters at the club and those directing them over the past couple of seasons, exemplified by the appearances and performances in the second half of 2010-11 of first Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing (though at 22, he has been more a reserve team product over the same time period than an under 18/academy player, despite obviously coming through the academy system long-term) and later in the season full back pair Jack Robinson and John Flanagan.

Robinson and Flanagan will no doubt feature further for Liverpool’s first team in the coming 2011-12 season but with senior players having now returned from injuries (such as Fabio Aurelio and Glen Johnson) they may find games not quite as regularly forthcoming as at the back end of last term, at least in the near future.

Both of those players, however, at just 17 and 18 years of age respectively are still eligible to take part in Liverpool’s NextGen Series side, despite featuring heavily in the first team’s pre-season campaign.

As well as the talented full-back duo, budding central midfielder Conor Coady played and scored for the first team while out on the tour of Asia last month, as well as featuring against Hull City and Galatasary.

Andre Wisdom, a powerful and composed on the ball defender who has featured for England’s youth sides regularly, came off the bench in Liverpool’s first four pre-season friendlies this summer and was involved in two first team squads last season, as well as training with the first team during the campaign.

Much spoken-about Raheem Sterling made a cameo appearance for Liverpool against Norwegian outfit Valerenga and also represented England at the recent under 17 tournament, while defender Stephen Sama also made his first team bow in the fixture against the Norwegians.

Such exposure at a young age – Sterling is still only 16 while Coady, Sama and Wisdom are all 18 – does not necessarily translate to future success in a Red shirt, but certainly serves to indicate the relative position of strength of the academy and reserve sides at present and perhaps shows that in such a high-profile tournament these players may get a taste of what could be to come should they continue to improve and challenge for a senior place in the coming months and years.

The Reds will face strong competition from Molde and Wolfsburg but arguably the toughest part of the draw – in terms of reputation at least – will come from the impressive youth outfit of Sporting Lisbon, heralded as one of the most prolific and consistent production lines on the continent and the side against who Liverpool’s youngsters will make their debut in the competition.

Whether Liverpool do well, win the tournament or get knocked out at the group stage is at this point almost irrelevant, certainly at least it is secondary to preparing the young players for the challenges that lie ahead.

A minimum of six mouth-watering clashes against some of the continent’s finest representatives of this age group could give a real indication of exactly where the promising youngsters are in their development – and impressive showings in the NextGen Series will certainly do their chances no harm at all of joining up with the senior squad again in the near future.

Robinson, Flanagan, Spearing and Kelly all made big strides last season under Kenny Dalglish; Rodolfo Borrell’s next wave of young charges will hope to emulate them this coming season and the upcoming tournament is a great platform for them to show just why each of them should be next.

Hat-trick Hero Maxi but Suarez the Star Again for Liverpool


Liverpool boosted their chances of finishing in a European qualification spot in the Premier League this season and kept up their slight hopes of even nabbing Manchester City to the fourth and final Champions League spot with a 5-2 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage on Monday evening.

Dirk Kuyt scored his ninth goal in eight league games and Maxi Rodriguez scored his second hat-trick in sixteen days – taking his personal tally to seven in three matches – but it was Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s new number seven, who stole the show again.

The enigmatic and animated Uruguayan was a thorn in the entire defence of Fulham from the very first seconds of the game, during which he set up the opening goal for Maxi after just thirty-two seconds, until the very last moments of the match when another mazy burst down the right channel almost led to a sixth Reds goal when Kuyt’s strike was blocked on the line.

Suarez’s close control made him impossible to mark tightly as he repeatedly spun away from the likes of Chris Baird and Carlos Salcido by each touchline, just as he has done in almost every game since he joined Liverpool from Ajax in January.

When the Fulham defence then stood off, he simply ran at them at full tilt, committing them at every opportunity and revelling in the space afforded to him and his team mates.

Four goals and a further direct involvement in eight goals for his team mates in his eleven matches so far have marked out Luis Suarez as the best Premiership signing of the winter transfer window by some distance and he has helped transform Liverpool’s attacking play with his dynamic movement and non-stop work-rate.

‘El Pistolero’, as he is known, has shown a willingness to buy into the team ethic which has been promoted by stand-in boss Kenny Dalglish from the first day he arrived back at the club and it is that as much as his ability on the ball which has endeared him to the Liverpool faithful in such spectacularly quick fashion.

If Suarez has been the focal point for Liverpool’s flowing attacks recently then a debt of gratitude must also be paid to two lesser-spotted players in the attacking third but no less important for that, for it is the sheer industry and tactical stability of Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva which has allowed the Reds to flourish in an attacking sense over the past two months.

Working in tandem as though they had been central midfield partners for several seasons instead of several games, Spearing and Lucas have been responsible for breaking up attacks, stifling opposition creativity and launching wave after wave of Liverpool moves, culminating frequently in goal scoring chances for Suarez and his fellow attackers. Against Fulham, Spearing racked up an 82% success rate in his passing and made two interceptions and six successful tackles as he and Lucas completely dominated the midfield battle for a sixth game in a row; a magnificent return for a player making only his 25th career appearance for the Liverpool first team.

How Suarez has benefited from the quick turn-overs those two have won; and in turn what a great return he has given the Reds’ entire attack.

Just fourteen short weeks since Luis Suarez joined the Red re-birth under Kenny Dalglish – one can only imagine the terror he will wreak on the Premiership next season when the likes of Steven Gerrard and Andy Carroll are fully fit and firing and playing alongside him.

Premier League Relegation Fight: Which 3 Will Fail to Beat the Drop?


While the race for all things glorious at the top end of the Premiership comes to a head with Chelsea breathing hard down the neck of Manchester United for the title, Manchester City looking to consolidate their first ever Champions League spot finish and Liverpool hoping to catch Tottenham for the fifth place and Europa League spot, an arguably even more intriguing battle is going on at the opposite end of the table as six teams fight for survival and look to beat the drop into the Championship for next season.

At the ‘wrong end’ of the table, the battle is on between the three W’s and the three B’s – Wigan, Wolves, West Ham and Birmingham, Blackpool and Blackburn – to garner enough points in their remaining matches to stay ahead of their rivals and secure top flight football for another year.

After today’s (Saturday’s) games, Blackburn Rovers’ 1-0 home derby win over FA Cup semi-finalists Bolton Wanderers lifts them to 15th place and 38 points, just two shy of the magical ’40 point safety marker’ usually seen as enough points to ensure survival. On the same number of points but with an inferior goal difference is Birmingham in 16th, who face Wolves at home in a crunch game tomorrow.

Sitting just outside of the relegation places in 17th is Blackpool, who in their debut Premier League season have impressed with their all-out-attack strategy but now find themselves under scrutiny for their defensive deficiencies. However a clean sheet today at home to Stoke earned them a point in a 0-0 draw, keeping them above the drop zone on goal difference with 35 points.

Wigan were close to defeating Everton at home after leading 1-0 and seeing ‘keeper Al-Habsi save an Everton penalty, but a second spot-kick denied them of a precious three points and consigned them to another weekend in the relegation zone, also on 35 points.

Wolves and West Ham, both with a game to play on Sunday (vs Birmingam (a) and Manchester City (a) respectively) prop up the rest, as they have 33 and 32 points in 19th and 20th.

Starting with tomorrow’s hugely important game between Birmingham and Wolves, the home side know that a victory will probably be enough to secure their status in the top flight and having only lost four times in the league at home this season they will start off as favourites. Wolves on the other hand have a dreadful away record, winning just two of their seventeen matches and have had to rely heavily on their home form to see them safe.

The pressure will really be on both sides but despite the Blues’ 5-0 drubbing away to Liverpool in their last game, I have to back them to take advantage of Wolves’ dire away record to take the three points. That would take them to 41 points – level with 12th place Newcastle but in 15th position on goal difference – and if they could even take a single point from their remaining three fixtures against Newcastle (a), Fulham (h) and Tottenham (a) they would surely be safe.

Blackburn, who’s win today gives them valuable breathing space, face two games against direct relegation rivals sandwiching a visit of Manchester United. Supposing that in the normal course of things they lose that game, the two fixtures away to West Ham and Wolves (on the last day of the season) will clearly be defining. Given that Rovers have picked up a paltry eleven points on the road this season, today’s win takes on even more significance as it was their last ‘winnable’ fixture as opposed to ‘must-win’ ones.

Blackpool missed a vital opportunity today to take three points with their home draw against a lacklustre Stoke; on the plus side the Tangerines kept a welcome clean sheet but they have now just one ‘winnable’ game left – at home to Bolton, which is before an away trip to Tottenham and a last-day visit of Manchester United, both of which they will more than likely be defeated in. It has to be said that Blackpool  have not looked capable of winning recently, but Bolton also appear to have run out of steam and as they are safe and Blackpool will be fighting for their lives, it could be a game that Ian Holloway’s side snatch victory in.

Wigan also have just one home match to play which is against current bottom side West Ham United. Away games against Aston Villa and Stoke will be difficult under normal circumstances but with both sides comfortably safe in mid table and with Stoke having just played their FA Cup final by the time that game comes around, Roberto Martinez’s men might have every chance of snatching a crucial win in one of those games. They will certainly need to improve on their lack of clinical edge though, after wasting a host of chances to take more points in recent fixtures.

Wolves have a set of games of which any could be termed ‘winnable’ in reality – but their complete lack of cutting edge and goalscoring ability is going to make it very hard for them to beat the drop. Mick McCarthy’s men probably need two victories from games against Birmingham, West Brom, Sunderland and Blackburn – while two of those will obviously be fighting for points for the same reasons. Sunderland are on a wretched run of form and that could be a game where Wolves nick a point, though I feel a resurgent West Brom will be too strong for them.

And finally West Ham, who face Manchester City and then three matches against teams within touching distance above them; Blackburn, Wigan and Sunderland.

Presuming City take the expected three points tomorrow, those next two games will obviously go a long way to determining the teams who get another go at the country’s elite next season – and those who will be lining up against the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Watford and Brighton.

At home on the last day of the season, I would tip West Ham to beat Sunderland at home.

So on to the head-to-heads, the games which will ultimately decide which teams get enough points to leapfrog their rivals; it is worth noting that all the bottom six sides except Blackpool face at least one match against one of the other five – at least one game in which to take a precious three points while depriving the other side of any.

First up tomorrow (Sunday 1st May) as mentioned above is Birmingham vs Wolves, which the home team should win.

Next on 7th May is West Ham vs Blackburn. The Hammers’ home record is nothing to write home about, but Blackburn’s away one is torrid. It will no doubt be tense, scrappy and with a good chance of at least one red card, but I think the London side will just about scrape this one by the odd goal. West Ham victory then.

On 15th May, Wigan entertain West Ham. This is surely the biggest game of the lot; a real winner-takes-all fixture on the penultimate weekend of the season. For my money, Wigan have a better all-round side than West Ham and though they are easily the most inconsistent side on the Premier League, I think they have enough big characters like N’Zogbia, Cleverley and McCarthy who can create a chance when it matters most. I’m going for a Wigan win.

Finally, on the last day of the season Blackburn will visit Wolves. By my calculations, at this point Wolves would already be relegated and Blackburn would start the day knowing a point would see them safe. Wolves won’t go without a fight, but this could be a dreadful, scrappy affair which would suit Blackburn down to the ground – and I think they would get the point they need.

In my final table, Wolves (20th, 35 pts), Blackpool (19th, 38) and West Ham (18th, 38) would be relegated – despite a last day win for the Hammers against Sunderland. Blackburn (17th, 39), Wigan (16th, 41) and Birmingham (15th, 42) do enough to survive for another year.

Giving Wigan two victories from their final two games against West Ham (home) and Stoke (away) is clearly key to the outcome of the season, but their quality and Stoke’s possible lack of focus on that league game – especially if they win the FA Cup perhaps! – makes it entirely possible. West Ham certainly have the options in attack but their defence is shoddy and lacks great organisation, something which Wigan’s creative attackers can exploit.

Blackburn don’t need to achieve much in the final three games after today’s win over Bolton and a solitary point on the last day against already-relegated Wolves will be enough to save them.

Blackpool have given themselves too much to do against difficult opposition in these last three fixtures and surely face the task now of taking points off either Tottenham or Manchester United, away from home in both cases, to prove me wrong and beat the drop.

Relegation is not something that any fan wants to endure, perhaps least of all from the top tier in their team’s country, but for me, Wolves, Blackpool and West Ham fans are going to have to face that grim reality in the next month.

Sorry about that.

‘Fortress Anfield’ Returning as Reds Take Home Advantage


Liverpool brushed aside League Cup winners Birmingham City on Saturday with a thumping five-nil victory at Anfield, as the Reds continued their excellent league form under Kenny Dalglish and closed the gap on fifth-placed Tottenham to just three points, though Spurs do have a game in hand.

Under ‘King’ Kenny, Liverpool have now taken a highly impressive 17 points from a possible 21 at home in the league, with the home form of the team really proving the building blocks for the club’s resurgence since the turn of the year.

Draws against Everton and Wigan remain the only time Dalglish has dropped points at home, while Fulham, Stoke City, Manchester United, Manchester City and now Birmingham have all been sent packing with nothing to show for their efforts, giving the Reds an average of 2.4 points per game. Should Liverpool go on and win their remaining two home matches this season (vs Newcastle and Tottenham) Dalglish would claim an average of 2.6 points per home game in his half-season at the helm.

Compared with 6 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats in the first half of the season at home (average of 2 points per game) and it is clear that Liverpool have improved quite considerably when playing at Anfield since Dalglish took over in January.

However it is not just the results that have improved – though of course, at the end of the day that is what is clearly most important in terms of league placings.

But the manner in which Liverpool are now disposing of visitors, almost casually batting them aside with a confidence and surety which has been missing for far too long at the famous old stadium of Anfield, is the real major difference which Kenny Dalglish has affected.

Current league leaders Manchester United were overwhelmed, out-fought and out-thought by wave upon wave of Red attacks; Kuyt scoring a hattrick but being just one of a collection of impressive performers. Then Manchester City, so expensively assembled and fighting for Champions League qualification were consummately swiped aside in a first half of verve and fire.

Today Birmingham were beaten with much less fuss than was required for either of the Manchester clubs – unsurprisingly, given their lowly league position – but even more emphatically, Maxi Rodriguez’s hattrick just reward for his part in Liverpool’s tactically astute counter-attacking game in the second half.

Considering that these results are being garnered without such first team automatic picks such as club captain Steven Gerrard, £17 million full-back Glen Johnson, the stylish Daniel Agger, full backs Martin Kelly and Fabio Aurelio and, today, record signing Andy Carroll, only goes to underline what a terrific job Dalglish is doing – and indeed what a lot Liverpool supporters should have to look forward to next season once those players are back and the expected summer arrivals are finalised.

Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing have absolutely dominated the midfield against recent opposition, including Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, while young full backs John Flanagan and Jack Robinson again proved their substantial promise with an assured display against a side which will be competing in Europe next season. Conor Coady, named on the bench today though not used, will surely also see his time come before long.

Lots remains to be confirmed of course – not least of all Dalglish’s permanent position at the club – but if the home form and swagger of play from Liverpool continues, one thing which is clear is that the club will enjoy many profitable afternoons at Anfield next season – which could go a long way towards helping propel the club back into the upper echelons of the Premier League, as well as towards major European competitions and domestic cup success .

Victory Over City Gives Glimpse of Liverpool’s Youth Culture Future


For the first time in what seems like an age, Liverpool’s conveyor belt of young talent, somewhat rusty and creaky in recent years with disuse, is finally back in motion.

Last night’s victory for the Reds over Manchester City was a point of celebration for many reasons, not least of all the comprehensive manner in which Kenny Dalglish’s patched-together team disposed of Roberto Mancini’s expensively-assembled legion of international stars, nor the occasion of Andy Carroll’s first goals for the club as our new number nine, but also because of the noticeable effect on a good first team performance from a number of locally-produced players.

Vice captain Jamie Carragher, central midfielder Jay Spearing and teenage full-back debutant John Flanagan made up almost a third of Liverpool’s outfield players who came directly through the club’s academy programme, local graduates who have made it to the biggest of all stages, playing in the Premier League at Anfield.

Add to that list left back Jack Robinson, still only 17, who was on the bench for the game as an unused substitute and the missing club captain Steven Gerrard and defender Martin Kelly, both ruled out through injury, and the local-bred influence in first team affairs is once again beginning to rear its head, with four local-born ‘regulars’ and two very promising full backs in the squad.

Not since Gerrard himself broke through to establish himself as a first team regular have Reds fans had someone local to back as they bid to make the grade; at least, not for any significant period of time.

Plenty of players have come and gone of course, some making a dozen or more appearances before succumbing to being released, sold on or deemed not good enough and replaced by imports from the continent and beyond.

Stephen Warnock, with 67 appearances, heads the list of those who ran a hard race but ultimately failed to make it as a regular, while the likes of Neil Mellor (22 games, 6 goals), Stephen Wright (21, 1) and Darren Potter (17) all had their moments in the first team before moving on. The list of players who graduated from the academy to make a handful of appearances is even longer – Lee Peltier (4), Danny Guthrie (7), John Welsh (10), Jon Newby (4), Jon Otsemobor (6), David Raven (4), Richie Partridge (3), Zak Whitbread (7), James Smith (1) and Layton Maxwell (1) are just some of them – while the likes of Paul Harrison, a goalkeeper who was on the club’s books during Rafa Benitez’s reign, made the bench over a dozen times for the first team without actually playing. New Wolves recruit Adam Hammill was another youth player who after several loan moves found himself transferred permanently without having worn the Red of Liverpool in a competitive game. Current full back Stephen Darby, on loan at present to Notts County, has also made 6 appearances and looks set to be another offloaded without quite proving good enough.

Add to that the list of players who were signed as youngsters, either at Academy or reserve team level, and had brief spells in the first team and the picture begins to take shape that perhaps things were not quite being done as they should have been somewhere along the line; whether in the scouting department or that of the coaching, perhaps we will never know. Sebastian Leto (4), Lauri Dalla Valle (1), Antonio Barragan (1), Miki Roque (1), Jack Hobbs (5), Frode Kippe (2), Gabriel Paletta (8, 1), Damien Plessis (8, 1) all came and went, while the likes of Paul Anderson, Haukur Gudnason, Miki San Jose, Alex Kacaniklic, Godwin Antwi and of course Krisztian Nemeth all left without a single minute of first team action to their name.

But now a new clutch of youngsters are at the club; both locally-born and signed from afar.

And perhaps a new era of Liverpool Football Club is upon us; not just in terms of the owners and the manager – which will surely be officially Kenny Dalglish, sooner or later – but also in terms of the effectiveness of producing our own new crop of first team players.

Martin Kelly, so excellent during the middle part of this season until his injury sidelined him, has now made 27 appearances for the club, more than any other academy graduate since Stephen Warnock left for Blackburn Rovers in January 2007.

Jay Spearing, repaying the faith shown in him by Dalglish of late and completely dominating the midfield last night alongside Lucas Leiva against £12 million Gareth Barry and £24 million Yaya Toure, has now played 21 times for the Reds, and recently penned a new contract as he continues his development. At 22 years of age, his push into the first team has come slightly later than some might say is the right age, but Spearing is now showing ample proof that he can be a part of the rebuilding of the Liverpool squad – certainly is some distance ahead of the vastly more experienced Christian Poulsen, who failed to even make the bench last night.

Flanagan and Robinson have each now made their Reds bows, while Thomas Ince also made his debut earlier this season, Andre Wisdom has figured on the bench and on-loan forward Nathan Eccleston has made 9 Reds appearances. Add to that Conor Coady who was recently handed a squad number and has been involved in first team travelling and training, as well as free-scoring striker Adam Morgan in the under 18’s (17 goals in his last 12 games at the time of writing) and it is clear that the young contingent at the club, brought up through the Academy at Kirkby from a variety of ages, are now reaping the benefits of both the faith in them by the main man at the helm, Dalglish – who of course oversaw their development as part of his Academy ambassador role – and also their string of coaches on the way up the Liverpool Youth teams’ ladders, culminating most recently in Rodolfo Borrell with the under 18’s and (latterly) John McMahon and Pep Segura in the Reserves.

At first team level this season, Danny Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey have also had some limited impact – neither bought to the club as ‘youth players’ as such, but at just 18 years old each certainly signings with more than half an eye on the future of the club. Current back up to Pepe Reina, Peter Gulacsi, joined the club as a 17 year old, initially on loan and later permanently.

Other youngsters plying their trade in both the under 18’s and reserves this season who have been brought to the club from other teams include the likes of much-talked about Raheem Sterling, a pacey and tricky wide man; Suso, a creative left-footed attacking midfielder from Spain, Kristjan Emilsson, an Icelandic forward with a knack of scoring goals and Toni Silva, a fleet footed and skilful Portuguese winger – all have impressed at various stages this season and look like they could make the next step, which would be to perform regularly at Reserve team level.

Of course, nothing is to say that any of these players are going to go on and have the kind of impact at the business end of the club as Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have had. Those two combined have played over 1200 games for Liverpool and have won countless trophies and will go down in history as two of the finest players to grace the Anfield turf.

Indeed, it is even probable that despite the promise shown by many of these players, not all of them will make the grade at Anfield. Young Gerardo Bruna, still a reserve at the club, was highly thought of and a ‘sure-bet’ to make the left side of midfield his own but has even yet to make the bench for the first team and in all honesty does not look close to it now.

But it takes all kinds of players to make a club work and if we get even three or four of the very best of these youngsters into the team on a regular basis over the next couple of years, and the under 18’s coming up behind them can offer a similar output, then the long-term future of the club will certainly be secure – both in terms of quality and in having a good core of local-based talent playing their part in the revival of the club.

West Ham Defeat Shows How Much Work Remains To Do For Liverpool


Liverpool suffered their first defeat in nine matches at Upton Park yesterday as the Reds’ faint hopes of snatching a top-four spot were surely extinguished.

Having seen Spurs lose to Blackpool midweek, and with Chelsea not in league action until Tuesday evening, Liverpool had a chance to put pressure on the two sides immediately above them against a bottom-of-the-league West Ham outfit, who had won just once in their past six league fixtures.

However, Liverpool were second best for the majority of the game and the home side deservedly took the three points; goals from Scott Parker, Demba Ba and Carlton Cole proving enough despite a Glen Johnson tap-in with five minutes left on the clock which brought the possibility of snatching a point.

In truth, Liverpool looked sluggish and devoid of ideas for too much of this game. The passing and movement at the club has improved considerably over the past month or so, paving the way for many of the victories during this period which Liverpool have amassed, but yesterday it was in scant evidence. Too many players, especially in midfield, wanted to take too many touches on the ball and did not look to move it on quickly. With little or no movement up front for large portions of the game, the midfield battle was all too easily won by the Hammers, with Hitzelsberger and Parker overrunning Lucas Leiva at times, not helped by the obvious lack of match practice from Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard was beyond poor; his passing and set pieces were well below the high standard expected of him. His shot from twenty yards in the second half, which was tipped over by ‘keeper Rob Green, was one of the few positive contributions the skipper managed during this match as he struggled to find the rhythm of his play and resorted to trying to do too much himself. It has been remarked in many places that Gerrard’s most effective position is not in the centre of midfield but in a more advanced role behind the forward; not only is it his most effective area but it is, it must be said, also the area where he affects Liverpool’s defensive wall the least.

Liverpool’s captain is a great player, but his awareness at times when his team is without the ball is poor. For the first goal, he could certainly have done more to protect a large area behind him, which an opponent utilised to set up the goal for Parker. It’s not the first time Gerrard’s lack of tracking back has come at the expense of a goal, and playing in a central midfield “2” he cannot afford to do this.

Dirk Kuyt and Martin Skrtel are two first team players for Liverpool, but both had poor games against the Hammers, which follows a pattern set over much of the past season and even before.

While Kuyt’s ability to pop up with an important goal at times, as well as his often-cited work-rate, tactical responsibility and professionalism, makes him a likely figure to remain at the club beyond the end of the season, his technique and decision making can leave a lot to be desired at times.

Martin Skrtel has no such redeeming qualities in the goalscoring department, which you might expect from a defender. However, his constant and unerring ability to give away pointless free-kicks by jumping in front of attackers to win ‘nothing’ balls, his sub-standard aerial ability and his surprising lack of strength at times – showcased by Carlton Cole, of all people – mean that while he is a ‘good’ defender, he will never be a great one. And to become a great team again, Liverpool need to re-build a great defence.

Further forward, Luis Suarez was a bright spot in an otherwise murky Liverpool display yesterday. This is not coincidence. On Thursday evening, Liverpool fielded nine players from the start who played a large part in the game against West Ham. Of the others, Gerrard was returning from injury, Suarez was ineligible for the Europa League game, while Agger missed out versus West Ham through injury sustained in the Sparta match. With Martin Kelly and Raul Meireles picking up injuries at Upton Park as well, fatigue and tiredness will be taking its toll on the team around this time of year. Another factor towards that was the lack of rotation of the first team under the previous manager Roy Hodgson, who fielded a “full strength” eleven almost every league game.

While this defeat in no way should undo all the hard work put in by the team over the past month or so, it is important Liverpool get back to winning ways as quickly as possible. Of course this will not be easy, given the next match is at home against league leaders Manchester United – but then again, what better game to do it in?

For all the negatives to take out of yesterday’s game, and there were unfortunately quite a few, it is worth acknowledging that the understandings being built up all over the pitch between Meireles and Suarez, or Kuyt and Kelly, were still in evidence at times and are still very much in their infancy. Suarez played only his third game for the Reds and already he has scored once, set up one goal and struck the woodwork twice; his footwork and swift changes of direction make him a real handful for defenders and he has shown enough in this short time to suggest that once his team-mates get to know his runs, Luis will be a great supply of goals for the Reds.

In addition, record signing Andy Carroll is yet to figure for his new club and will be another option for the team which is still trying to find its way in attack.

I suppose overall this has been rather a negative article – though not exactly my intention, it does certainly show that while Liverpool are improving – and they still are, regardless of one defeat – there is still a lot of work to do. From the moments that Rafa was replaced by Roy, Aquilani and Insua were loaned out and replaced by the likes of Konchesky and Poulsen, this was always going to be a season of recovery and patching up. The important thing is to build as many positive relationships on the pitch throughout the club as possible, and carry these over into next season.

If Liverpool finish the season in sixth place in the league – where they currently sit – it will have been an improvement on last season’s placing and a huge improvement on when Dalglish took over in January. Though the Europa League is not the target for the Anfield club, qualifying for it again next season (which is not, by the way, guaranteed with a sixth place finish) will provide the chance of competing for a trophy, one which we must lay a claim to winning this year too, the chance of blooding further the promising youngsters at the club in the atmosphere and environment of Continental football, and will still lure quality players to the club in the summer transfer window.

The decline of the club over the past twenty months has been halted. One defeat does not alter that. It will take some time, a lot of hard work and dedication and some very smart and brave decisions to reverse it entirely.

But the club is back on the rise now, everyone is pulling in the same direction, and good times are surely still ahead.

Benzema Strike Hands Real Madrid Vital Champions League Away Goal


Karim Benzema returned to his old club in goalscoring fashion tonight as Real Madrid picked up what could be a crucial away goal in the Stade Gerland in Lyon, as the French and Spanish giants fought out a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Champions League ’round of 16′.

Benzema started on the bench against his first professional side as Real manager Jose Mourinho went with Emanuel Adebayor as the central forward, ably assisted by the invention of Mesut Ozil and the endeavour of Angel di Maria. In the only other notable difference in what might be termed the ‘usual’ Real Madrid starting eleven, Alvaro Arbeloa played at left-back instead of Marcelo as Mourinho sought to keep a steady ship at the back.

For their part, Lyon went with Bafetimbi Gomis as their spearhead; Yoann Gourcuff and Cesar Delgado the men charged with supporting him in attack.

The two clubs clashed at the same stage last season and on that occasion the French side were triumphant over the two legs, meaning Real Madrid have now gone six consecutive seasons without making it past the first knock-out round of the Champions League.

During a feisty and eventful opening period, the best chance fell for Lyon forward Gomis, who had a clear sight on goal after Spanish stopper Iker Casillas spilled a fairly routine catch from a cross; however he recovered well to make enough of a save to divert the dreadlocked striker’s effort over his crossbar.

Lyon had the better of much of the first half but Real did work their way back into the contest and di Maria tested Lyon’s ‘keeper, Hugo Lloris, with a long range effort before Lloris had to be alert to divert a bouncing free kick away from goal.

The away side continued after the break as they had ended the first and were unlucky not to take a lead shortly after the interval as first the crossbar and then the post denied them in the space of five minutes, the latter effort a looping header from Sergio Ramos. Real would not be denied an opener though, and after Benzema made his belated entrance as substitute the difference in the potency of his team’s attack was immediately clear.

After first battling to win possession near the touchline, he received the ball back from Ozil and twisted his way past two challenges inside the Lyon penalty area, before steering the ball somewhat fortunately through Lloris’ legs and beyond the despairing lunge of Cris on the goal line. Though his team mates celebrated the goal with vigour, Benzema himself made no grand gesture, having been loyally supported by the fans of Lyon for several seasons – and indeed he had received a rousing reception from them not two minutes earlier as he entered the pitch.

Lyon were forced to come out of their shells more as they searched for an equaliser and added both Jimmy Briand and Miralem Pjanic to their attack in an attempt to eke out the craftsmanship to unlock the stubborn Madrid defence. However they could have fallen a second goal behind had either the referee or any of his many assistants spotted a blatant handball inside their area; Mourinho was left fuming on the touchline as all failed to see the elbow of a Lyon player block a free-kick midway through the second half.

The home side continued to press in the latter stages of the game and though they were susceptible to the counter attack, they got their reward in the end as Cris nodded a free kick back across goal to the unmarked Gomis. As the Real defence appealed in vain for a non existent offside, the French forward guided the ball past Casillas to net the equaliser with just seven minutes left on the clock.

Both sides had half chances to win it late on, but in the end the draw was probably a fair result after each side had the better of one 45 minute period.

With an away goal in the bag and the home tie to come – and Real Madrid manager Mourinho having recently passed the nine year milestone of his last career home defeat – the Spanish side will be heavy favourites to progress at long last to the quarter finals, but with Lyon having accomplished feat of knocking them out at the Santiago Bernabeu only a year ago – and with the possible return of main striker Lisandro Lopez to come for the second leg – the Spanish side should take nothing for granted.

Liverpool Return to Europe: 5 Youth Players in Europa League Squad


Kenny Dalglish will take charge of his first European game as Liverpool FC manager tomorrow night in the Czech Republic as the Reds take on Sparta Prague in the Europa League. Dalglish and his players flew today out of Liverpool and after naming his squad, five youngsters from the reserves and academy teams are included in the large travelling party, as is £35 million man Andy Carroll, though the former Newcastle forward will take no part in the game as he continues to recover from injury.

Captain Steven Gerrard and centre back Daniel Agger stay at home on Merseyside as they continue to recover from knocks sustained in the past week or two, though Raul Meireles has recovered from the bug which saw him substituted against Wigan Athletic at the weekend.

Joe Cole returns to the squad, while Christian Poulsen misses out as his wife has gone into labour. Youngsters Conor Coady, Raheem Sterling, Tom Ince, Jack Robinson and John Flanagan also make the trip as Dalglish names 23 players in total for the game squad.

Full list:

(GK) Reina, Jones, Gulacsi, (D) Johnson, Flanagan, Aurelio, Robinson, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Carragher, Kelly, Skrtel, (M) Meireles, Cole, Maxi, Jovanovic, Lucas, Coady, Ince, Sterling, (F) Pacheco, Kuyt, Ngog (travelled but not playing: Carroll).

From this list we can see that David Ngog is almost certain to start a game for the first time since Roy Hodgson’s final game as Liverpool boss, against Blackburn Rovers. Luis Suarez is cup-tied and is not in Liverpool’s Europa League squad. Dalglish is not likely to tinker hugely with his side, though players such as Jovanovic and Joe Cole, who have not figured a lot over the past month or so, could gain some valuable playing time, while Spanish starlet Dani Pacheco could also play at some point.

Liverpool do not have a Premiership game this weekend, meaning a full week between back-to-back games against Thursday’s opponents. This leaves ample time for recovery if ‘King’ Kenny wishes to select a full strength eleven for the first leg, in the hope of building up a good lead for the second leg at Anfield.

With Meireles and Lucas the only recognised central midfielders in the party – though Aurelio has performed there of late – Conor Coady will be hopeful of taking his place on the substitutes bench. While 16 year old Sterling grabbed the headlines for his midweek five goal haul in the Youth Cup, he may have to wait for his chance to figure for the first team; Coady has been a consistent and stand-out performer for both Liverpool and England sides over the past year and both Flanagan and Robinson have been included in first team squads this season already. Tom Ince impressed hugely in a loan spell with Notts County earlier this season and may also push for a place on the bench.

With so many players having travelled it is difficult to predict a side, but bearing in mind that I don’t think Kenny will take out too many first teamers for this first leg, I will go with the following line up:

(4:4:1:1) Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Skrtel, Johnson; Kuyt, Lucas, Aurelio, Cole; Meireles; Ngog.

Subs; Gulacsi, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Coady, Jovanovic, Maxi, Pacheco.