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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Blackburn, 02.28.10

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Liverpool look to play catch-up as Blackburn comes to Anfield.

The result earlier this morning at Stamford Bridge (4-2 to City) puts Liverpool in a...wait for it...MUST WIN SITUATION!#!@! But we're starting to really get into crunch time, and with City four points ahead and level on matches for the time being, it's a less than comfortable spot for Liverpool to be in. Of course, this is completely disregarded Spurs and Villa, both of whom take to the pitch tomorrow. For Villa it's the Carling Cup final, though, so it means they'll have two in hand in league once Sunday is settled. The upshot is that Spurs are playing Everton, who are capable of beating anyone and everyone in league, save for Liverpool of course. Oooh, petty bragging rights when the club are in real danger, big man!

But Blackburn's visit won't be any break for Liverpool. Earlier this season the teams did their best to make viewers reevaluate the importance of your vision with a 0-0 draw at Ewood Park. Maybe not that bad, as both sides had their chances in the second half, with David Ngog hitting the crossbar and Franco Di Santo turning his shorts yellow in the penalty area no less than twice. In the end it was a point apiece in a match that you would have expected Liverpool to win.

And tomorrow's not going to be any different. Liverpool have to enter the match as favorites, but you know that Blackburn will come to play organized, physical, and dangerous football. They're among the current leaders in form in the last six matches, trailing only Everton in points in their last six matches. This is largely due to their blistering home form, which has seen them take the maximum number of points in their last four. Away from Ewood it's been a different story, however, with the club alternating draws and losses for six consecutive matches.

From my perspective Blackburn have been one of the more anonymous English clubs this season---no big names, firmly planted in the middle of the table, and lacking any major results on the season. In and of itself this can pose a problem, as Liverpool haven't shown they can consistently break down any type of opposition. Blackburn aren't Unirea, but they're never going to stretch Liverpool and they'll surely be happy to come away from Anfield with a repeat of the result they got at Ewood.

So it's vital that Liverpool come out on the front foot, and it's not surprising that it's what Blackburn are expecting. It's what we're all expecting. Liverpool scored more than two goals in a match midweek for the first time in forever, and we all saw what that did for the collective confidence of the squad. To be able to come out against Blackburn with that same type of confidence would be a welcomed sight.

The Martin Skrtel broken foot is the only recent injury news that's headed in the wrong direction---other than the Slovakian, all the news coming out of the physio's room has been positive. Rafa assured that Glen Johnson will not be fit for tomorrow's match, but he's close and could be back in time for Wigan next Monday. Those are, to the best of my limited knowledge, the only real concerns Liverpool has on the fitness front. And as noted yesterday, the Greek is serving the last of his three match ban and will not be eligible.

For a defense that's been so stable, we're going to surely see a new face in some capacity due to the injury of Skrtel and the suspension of Kyrgiakos. There's about four different options--Dani Ayala in the center with Carra at right back, or Martin Kelly/Stephen Darby/Javier Mascherano/Phillipp Degen at right back and Carra in the center. I'm not sure that Darby's ready for a physical match like tomorrow's, and likewise it could be too soon for Kelly to start. Ayala has been anonymous since featuring in the fall, and we've seen Masch deputize wonderfully at right back when needed. Nothing concrete, though, so it'll be interesting to see how Rafa handles the mini-crisis, which in theory only lasts through tomorrow.

And as has been the case so often this season, the front six will be anyone's guess. Dirk Kuyt was rested against Unirea, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him start up top, particularly in light of David Ngog's recent struggles. I'd love to see Fernando Torres back, but I can't help but think that it's still too soon. Ryan Babel has really made a push in the past few weeks, and his pace could be the difference in an otherwise physically dominated match. Rafa doesn't appear to be in love with Albert Riera at the moment, and Maxi Rodriguez has likewise had his share of difficulties, so I'm expecting Yossi Benayoun to fill the wing opposite Babel. The midfield and the "hole" are again up for grabs, but this is the type of match that you expect Rafa to favor Lucas and Masch again. The kid gloves aren't going away with Aquilani, and Blackburn are a notoriously brutal side to come up against. The only wildcard here is if Masch does float to right back, in which case Aqua is the natural choice to partner Lucas behind Steven Gerrard.

As I mentioned up top, Liverpool have to have no other outcome in mind than the three points. City will have a game in hand after tomorrow, and if Liverpool are still three points or more off their pace, that uphill battle is going to get a lot steeper.