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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Fulham, 12.18.10

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Collective "awww" as Roy Hodgson and Fulham are reunited at long last.

What, you're not feeling all gooey and gushy inside? Heartless bastards, the lot of you.

I've actually been a bit surprised at the lack of the aforementioned gushing in the build-up---a few mentions here and there, but for the most part, the aim has been on the need for Liverpool to start to play with some sort of consistent quality. No complaints from me, and I'm guessing plenty of you agree.

Fulham visit Anfield largely unchanged since Hodgson's departure, which means they'll still try to control the pace of play, stay stingy, and they're still shit away from home. Mark Hughes' side haven't won away from Craven Cottage so far this season, with five draws and three losses, and yet they've managed the same number of points in away matches as Liverpool. Anyone take a stab at the common denominator? You're right, it's parity in the Premier League. Not the influence of any one man. Clearly.

Clint Dempsey has been the Cottagers main threat in attack this season with five goals, and tomorrow he'll continue to carry the load with the absence of Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele. Both Zamora and Dembele have been out long-term, and since the loss of the former the club have only won once. Tough times, but they've got a decent amount of stability in the starting eleven---Danny Murphy will captain from the midfield, Mark Schwarzer will feature in goal, Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland, Dickson Etuhu, and Carlos Salcido will likely compose the back line, and Simon Davies, Damien Duff, and Zoltan Gera could provide support from the midfield forward.

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?

Johnson Kyrgiakos Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Meireles Lucas Maxi

---The good news is that the injury list is getting shorter and shorter; Gerrard is no lock and might not start, but he's damned close. David Ngog probably didn't need to sit out midweek and is fully fit, which leaves only Daniel Agger, Jay Spearing, and Jamie Carragher on the long-term injury list.

---Like I mentioned, might be optimistic to say that Gerrard starts. It's been over a month since he featured for Liverpool, and a rush back to the starting eleven might be ill-advised. I'm guessing Hodgson won't be able to help himself, though, particularly with the quasi-injury to Ngog. If Gerrard does start, I'd probably rather see him on the right side with Ngog supporting Torres and a rest for Kuyt, but Roy is Roy is Roy, and an available Gerrard might mean a return to the hole.

---We've talked about what impact the return of Gerrard will have on the regular eleven, and it seems that the consensus is that it should have no impact on the Meireles-Lucas partnership. Last week Hodgson made reference to the idea that the placement of Gerrard could be difficult, so let's hope it's not a matter of sliding Meireles wide and jamming the Steven Gerrard square into the round hole of what's developed in central midfield. As I noted above, if there is any odd man out at this point (besides Ngog), it's likely Kuyt.

---I finally take a stand and guess that Fabio Aurelio gets a start, if only because I can't bear the thought of Paul Konchesky making another start. Aurelio hasn't exactly set the pitch alight when he's been on, but I'm inclined to think this is more a product of a lack of time rather than the laughable idea that Konchesky is a better left back. The other three are self-selecting at this point.

---Special mention to Pepe Reina in what will be his 200th appearance in the Premier League. Genuinely the real deal, and hopefully he continues for a long time.

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

If there's any saving grace for Hodgson this season, it's been Liverpool's home form in league. The loss to Blackpool is the only time they've dropped all three points at Anfield, and all but one of their wins have come in front of the home crowd. Displays in the Europa League and the Carling Cup belie this sentiment, but I'm sure Roy would let you know that it was the second-stringers and weather and good opponents and stuff. The last two home victories have been comfortable, but it's tough to tell if those were a product of underwhelming opposition or Liverpool starting to assert themselves as a genuinely good home side. Fulham are no pushovers, so in theory tomorrow should be a good litmus test.

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

I'm guessing the strong home form continues to the tune of a 2-0 Liverpool win. Sentimentally, a clean sheet for Pepe Reina on his 200th appearance.

Liverpool continues to get the run on television---ESPN has the match live in the UK, and Fox Soccer Channel has it in the US. As usual, stream links, team sheets, and matchday news will be up earlier in the day. Good chance that this one will be interrupted for me by the great scourge of the holiday season---attack of the in-laws. Keep me in your thoughts.

Hope you all have a nice end to the week, and let's hope the weekend gets off on the right foot tomorrow.