Tomorrow we’re being hosted by Portsmouth at Fratton Park which hasn’t been the most fruitful location for us. According to the BBC preview, we’ve played 27 times and won only eight. However, in the Premiership we’ve fared slightly better, with two wins from four games and last season we lost 2-1.
Good news is that we’ve got Gerrard and Carragher back for selection. Better news is that our squad has shown it can absorb their absence for a few games. Bad news is that it’s a tough away game coming after a relatively long international break.
I’m never confident before games like these. While we should win, given our form in the first month of the season, Portsmouth have fought hard and valiantly against the top teams in the league – drawing against Manure, losing to the Gunners and losing to Chelsea by virtue of a quite unbelievable piece of goal-keeping by David "Calamity" James. He jumped over the ball people. Over. The. Ball. Unreal.
They’re a tough side – physical, competitive and compact although I’m not sure how much game changing skill or imagination they have to open us up at the back. I’m fairly sure they’ll miss Lua Lua this season as he always seemed to be the spark that could ignite the team. That said, Matty Taylor can score from pretty much anywhere in the opposition half so our midfield and strikers, whoever they are, will have to work hard and give them as much time on the ball as we gave Derby, Chelsea, Sunderland and Toulouse. Which is to say, not a lot.
Other players to watch will be Otaka, who is as quick as shit off a shovel, Kanu, who seems to be enjoying a renaissance under ‘Arry, and Big Sol who can be a rock at the back. We may also be playing against one of my favourite players, Papa Bouba Dioup the midfield enforcer endearingly nick-named "The Wardrobe" due to his immense size. Should be a really tough game but my team would look something like:
Carragher – he’s back.
Agger – even though he played a lot for Denmark over the break, we’ll need his pace against Otaka.
Arbeloa - who’s really impressed me this season, especially considering LB is not his preferred position.
Pennant – well rested for the two weeks, a nice run-out against Crewe reserves on Wednesday, JP should show off his international class. This time on the right wing.
Gerrard – he’s back.
Sissoko - we need to harass the hell out of them and I love the way Momo's been playing recently. We may even get a goal out of him! Normally I'd have the Monster Masch in here, especially as he sees the opposition having the ball as a personal insult against him and his family, but he had a long flight back from Australia.
Riise – Babel played a full 90 on Wednesday and this may not be the ideal game for his silky skills.
Kuyt/Voronin – this really is the battle of the cult heroes. They’re both pretty similar players but given the way the Voronator has been putting away his chances, he may have the edge.
Torres – I’m backing El Nino to score.
*Note - not sure if the fighting Irishman Stevie Finnan will be able to play. If he can't then Arbeloa shifts to RB, Riise falls back to LB and Yossi Benayoun comes in at left wing.
If this was being played on a cold night in January, I’d be happy with a draw but given the way we dealt with a similar challenge from Sunderland, I’m expecting a close fought win. As long as we give Portsmouth the respect they deserve, apply ourselves to the challenge ahead and play our own game, we should win 1-0 or 2-1. It'll be tight though. Very tight.