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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Utrecht, 12.15.10

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Group play wraps up at Anfield tomorrow night against Utrecht.

And, regardless of how things unfold in the other match, it's Liverpool on top and Utrecht left behind.

As I noted before, group play has been mighty strange in Group K thus far---of the 20 matches played overall, there's been 14 draws and only 3 wins, two of which came from Liverpool. Steaua are in the driver's seat for the second spot at current, but they've got a tricky tie with Napoli, and if the Italian side get a victory they'll advance.

Utrecht were ruled out after the 3-3 draw with Napoli two weeks ago, and despite the fact that progression is an impossibility, they'll arrive tomorrow wanting to end things on a positive note. The Dutch side has led the march to draws in the group---aside from their 3-1 loss to Steaua in early November, they've drawn every other match in group play, including a 0-0 result in the reverse fixture of tomorrow's match.

Finishing strong in Europe is really the only goal tomorrow, and I don't think that can be underestimated. For all of Liverpool's struggles domestically, I'm guessing there's still plenty of luster that would come along with taking points of one of Europe's most historic clubs in front of their home fans. It's easy for us to smirk and say, "not that big of an accomplishment now, is it?" And that's somewhat true. But I'd be very surprised if tomorrow was just a formality for Utrecht.

It's been an inconsistent run for Ton du Chatinier's squad---they've defended well at times but conceded 6 in 2 matches, went up 3-1 against Napoli only to end up with a draw, and had stretches in which they couldn't find the net. Ricky van Wolfswinkel has been the leader during group play with two goals, but he's struggled to match the form domestically that's seen him bag 11 goals. Certainly not a one-man team, though, and they'll likely feature a number of regulars---Michel Vorm's been the man in goal, Jan Wuytens, Tim Cornelisse, Alje Schut, and Mihai Nesu have been the most consistent back line, and Edouard Duplan, Dries Mertens, and Michael Silberbauer have supported van Wolfswinkel through the midfield.

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?

Reina
Johnson Kyrgiakos Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Shelvey Poulsen Jovanovic
Babel Torres

---Injury news has become relatively stagnant, which again brings a sigh of relief. There are doubts about David Ngog after being on the receiving end of an elbow on Saturday, so no need to take risks with him. Long-term absences still include Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger, Jay Spearing, and Jamie Carragher.

---Roy Hodgson's grounded my fantasies yet again, this time by laying out his plans a day in advance. Not as concrete as it's been in recent weeks, but still a fairly clear idea about who's doing what. And stuff.

---Even though he says that Torres will feature, I really don't know if that means he'll be in the starting eleven. I'd guess with David Ngog a doubt it means the Spaniard will start and play a strictly-set number of minutes (I hope), and then give way to Nathan Eccleston or another younger squad member. Hopefully we see Babel in a more advanced role, though, and it would make sense if that came alongside Torres.

---It's attributed to a knock to Paul Konchesky, but it's nice to see Fabio Aurelio work his way in. The left side has been atrocious at times, largely down to the play of Konchesky, so it'd be nice to see some stability and measured competence for Liverpool's left side. Hodgson mentioned that "our center-backs" will feature, which means Kyrgiakos and Skrtel, and hopefully the latter has a recovery from the absolute catastrophe he experienced at Newcastle on the weekend.

---Jonjo Shelvey's also mentioned by Hodgson in the link above, so I'd guess we see his partnership with Christain Poulsen yet again. They were average at best against Steaua two weeks ago, but I'm inclined to attribute that to the hoofish nature of the tactics rather than their actual output. Shelvey was active enough, but for Poulsen it was 90 minutes of neck circles. I'm also guessing a sentimental return for Dirk Kuyt against his former club (and hopefully steps towards improved form), and another quasi-lifeline for Milan Jovanovic.

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

Staying fit and moving forward. I mentioned above that there's the potential for this to turn into a walkthrough given the lack of implications, but with the squad Hodgson's talked about naming, there's also a good chance he has designs on this being a confidence-booster. That's not to say Utrecht are a team that's going to arrive hoping to make Liverpool feel better; as I mentioned, I'd guess they still have plenty riding on tomorrow. But with some struggles for the regular first-teamers that might feature (Torres, Kuyt, Skrtel) and a chance for others to work their way in (Aurelio, Jovanovic, Babel), it's still going to be worth watching.

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

I think a 2-0 victory for Liverpool is a distinct possibility, but so is 0-0 or 1-1 or 0-2. I've been so damn good with my predictions, though, and more than happy to have folks snarkily point out the error of my ways on matchdays. Long may it continue.

In the UK you can catch the match live on Five, and stateside I'm guessing it's either on DirecTV or GolTV, but right now I'm too lazy to check. What this means for most of us in the states is that streams will be the way to go, so check the site tomorrow morning for the matchday thread and links to ways to watch.

Hope you all have a nice Tuesday, and if you're someplace warm, I don't want to hear it.