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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Steaua Bucharest, 12.02.10

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Liverpool are off to Romania as group play winds down.

It's a return to the scene of the crime for me---last time these teams met and I wrote a preview, it was apparently filled with errors and written "like" I was drunk. Not a good way to attract Romanian readers.

Not this time, friends. Well, maybe. But let's get it out of the way---I blame, ESPN Soccernet, and Ryan Babel's Twitter for any and everything you're about to read. The latter's only to blame for poor grammar and furthering rumors about the match being postponed, as he wrote "RT @garyh1975: @RyanBabel is the game in trouble of been called off« that's what the rumors r yup .." Brilliant.

Steaua has had a relatively rough go of it domestically and sit seventh in league, ten points behind FC Oţelul Galaţi. Which, as I type, doesn't really sound like struggling, at least from a Liverpool perspective. Maybe more like something to aspire to. Anyhow, they're second in Group K the Europa League, and they've been able to piece together some decent results in a relatively confusing group. They're the only side to have won a match besides Liverpool, a 3-1 win over Utrecht, and sit two points ahead of the Dutch side and Napoli and three points behind Liverpool.

They're led up front by Stancu, who set up their only goal at Anfield and has notched 12 goals to lead the Romanian Liga 1. The Romanian striker is supported by Cristian Tănase, who scored the aforementioned goal at Anfield, and Pantelis Kapetanos and Florin Gardoş, the latter of whom opened the scoring in Steaua's win over Utrecht a month ago. Worth noting that the Romanian side haven't lost in Europe since last facing Liverpool, and the win against Utrecht has to be seen as encouraging.

As for the Reds:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Kelly Kyrgiakos Wilson Aurelio
Babel Shelvey Poulsen Jovanovic

---Roy Hodgson had to go and take all the fun out trying to guess the squad when he basically named nine of tomorrow's eleven the other day, which came along with news that Fernando Torres would be left at home. Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, and Jay Spearing will all miss out through injury.

---The play at the back will be mighty interesting to watch, with Danny Wilson featuring for the first time since The Great Northampton Disaster, and Martin Kelly likely looking to build on the good performances we've seen so far this season. Nice to see Aurelio back in the mix, and the presence of Kyrgiakos will add experience and muscle to the mix.

---Hodgson also more or less picked out a four-man midfield of Ryan Babel, Christian Poulsen, Jonjo Shelvey, and Milan Jovanovic in the link above, and if they all start it'll be patchwork at best. That's not to say that there's not quality in that mix, but none have featured regularly in the first team and have, at times, looked off the pace completely. Okay, I'm just talking about Poulsen.

---All the build-up has mentioned that it's going to be the Joe Cole show, so he'll be in the mix, likely with David Ngog. If he's not playing just off Ngog (or whoever else is up top), maybe he floats to the wide areas with Babel, Jovanovic, or Pacheco playing in a withdrawn role in attack.

---Nice take on the squad from Hodgson: "'I don't think it is correct to judge people too much when many of them are playing together and are obviously fairly inexperienced at this level." Oh, okay. That's verging on hypocritical and a pre-emptive strike towards excusing away a bad display, which isn't really surprising. Or, in the least likely of possibilities, he's realized that throwing the hopes of Liverpool's future under the bus isn't a great strategy.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

The points are what really matter tomorrow in terms of progression, but after a display like Sunday's, I'm hesitant to say that I just want to see Liverpool secure passage to the knockout stages. It'll probably be an uphill task for the inexperienced mix that we'll see, but it'd be nice to see an approach resembling the one that we saw against Spurs. If the eleven above is anywhere near accurate, there's a healthy amount of attacking talent involved and could lend itself towards something positive. Unless, you know, two deep-lying banks of four and Noel in a coma.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

2-1 to Liverpool, with some difficulty. I find myself agreeing with Hodgson about the difficulties facing an underused, inexperienced side, but I think they still piece it together and get all three points.

Folks in the UK can catch the match on ESPN, and stateside you'll be able to see it on GolTV. If you believe in being a contributing member of society and have work or other commitments, shame on you. But you'll be able to find links and streams here starting a few hours before the opening kick, which is set for 18:00 GMT and 1:00 EST.

Enjoy your Wednesday, and feel free to catch yourselves up on the highlights from the last meeting, which, despite the scoreline, wasn't the prettiest of displays: